This game has all the hallmarks of an April in Toronto of late. It means absolutely nothing to the Leafs and everything to the Buffalo Sabres, which is no solace to Leafs fans hoping for a shot at Lord Stanley. The Sabres were without Tyler Myers, Christian Ehrhoff, and Mike Weber which should bode well for the Leafs. The Leafs were without Jonas Gustavsson, James Reimer, and self respect after playing the most incredibly heartless brand of post playoff elimination hockey in recent memory. Only the Ottawa Senators when making no secret of the tank job at hand looked more interested in the hockey games than the Leafs have since last weekend, which should scream character problems to the general manager.
Since only the General Manager can really perform the autopsy on the club, all that has been going on this week has been the speculation game in terms of both on and off ice struggles. Dave Feschuk ingloriously placed a dagger in the Captaincy of Dion Phaneuf by listing each of the young mans shortcomings. A counter article written by The Globe and Mail columnist James Mirtle exonerates Phaneuf from total responsibility, and places more on the people that made him captain. With a mess as big as the one the Leafs have found themselves in, like the end of the world wars, no one person or single event can be responsible.
The Game started rather typically for Toronto, few shots on goal, limited enthusiasm, little effort. The only notable difference was that Buffalo was unable to get into that seldom watched area around the Leafs net. The Leafs got an early lead from a Joey Crabb shorthanded goal which Ryan Miller will not be happy about. The Leafs after the goal for the first time in nearly a month played in the oppositions offensive zone for a sustained period of time. They actually looked like they cared.
The refs firmly positioned themselves in tank nation with two chincy yet legitimate calls for hooking while ignoring any infraction committed by a player in white. Not a complaint, more so an observation. Toronto killed all penalties with vigor which for the most part they have done with regularity since the midpoint of the season. It was hard at times to truly determine whether this was a case of the Leafs playing really well or Buffalo playing really poorly. Either way period 1 was light years better than the last six Toronto has played.
The second period was a bit different from the first in that the Leafs were a little bit intense. Buffalo opened the scoring on a misread by Jake Gardiner, but somehow the world did’nt realize Luke Schenn decided to cover the shooter instead of taking pass. This of course forced Stafford to pass the puck to one of two completely uncovered Sabres, which just happened to be Tyler Ennis. The Leafs got one back when Kessel got his career best 37’th goal on the powerplay, also his 99’th in a Toronto uniform. Then the most unbelievable thing happened, with little time to go the Leafs did not quit on a play and John Michael Liles scores with less than a second to go in the period. Tank nation is not happy with this right now, but it has to be good to play with passion until it’s over.
The third period was again a great example of the Leafs ability to play poorly and well at the same time. In the offensive zone the Leafs were better than normal, defensively they were as bad as normal. But at times they were’nt, and that is really what has to be fixed in the upcoming offseason. A misread by Phaneuf got the Sabres within 1, but a great score off the rush started by Clarke MacArthur and finished by Matt Frattin gave the Leafs another 2 goal cushion.
It’s hard to figure whether to be glad that the witch is dead and the Leafs won at the Air Canada Centre, but it is also maddening to see the team play this well after laying up the last three weeks. The only good feeling left is that Leafs effectively eliminated the Buffalo Sabres from the post season.