A Week in the Life of the Leafs (March 19-26)
This week had the potential to be more about the death of the Leafs playoff hopes than offering any sort of hope but it ended up providing the latter (with an early dose of the former). Three games against the top two teams in the East were skillfully handled (for about 171:15) and personally it gave me the belief that the Leafs are rounding into form just in time. They control their fate as their schedule gives them games against each of their rivals (except Tampa, dammit). Here's a quick look back at the games.
Leafs 2 v. Devils 1: Sweet Revenge
Wade Belak got the sideshow out of the way early with a looong fight in which he took the decision with some good early shots but kudos to the scrub for playing his role. He could have spent his three minutes on the ice hiding but he didn't. In the game, the Leafs picked up goals from Kyle Wellwood (who says his return wasn't like a deadline pick-up now?) and the suddenly scorching hot Nik Antropov. Both were set up by the captain on rushes in which he hit the zone with a full head of steam. Raycroft got some help from the posts as he outdueled Martin Brodeur.
Leafs 4 v. Sabres 5: Heartbreak
Well this was a gut-punch game if I have ever seen one. At 4-1 I was soaring. Devereaux-Steen-Stajan was the best line on the ice and Raycroft had barely been tested. Then a funny thing happened as the Leafs got greedy. Not content with taking the gift from the hockey gods (the fourth goal) and going home to attempt to complete the sweep over the Eastern Conference's best team the Leafs tried to run up the score. It quickly fell apart as a couple of bad line changes, a terrible tripping call on Kubina, a soft play by Carlo, and a missed timeout (Maurice knew that the next whistle after the 4th goal was a tv timeout but his team couldn't last until the next whistle) cost the Leafs their hard-earned points.
Leafs 4 v. Sabres 1: Resilience
I won't lie. After the previous night's events I was expecting the Leafs to get buried. But the coaching staff dedicated themselves to showing the team how they had dominated the Sabres for most of the previous evening and wouldn't you know it, they repeated it at home for their 5th straight home win. Again, the Steen-Stajan-Devereaux line was golden as both kids were playing with an incredible amount of confidence and skill. They are both becoming very difficult to handle in the offensive zone while maintaining their defensive responsibility. Darcy Tucker potted a couple of goals including a Leafs powerplay special in celebration of the reunion of PP # 1.
These three games, minus the meltdown, have to have instilled a huge amount of confidence in the entire team. If they can keep it going against the Hurricanes then they will start to build the kind of momentum that saw them finish last year on an 11-1-2 streak and with the team gelling after a season of injuries they look like a team that could make some noise in the playoffs. But first things first, time to beat the storm.