Every Leafs fan has an opinion. Here's mine: We are all Pension Plan Puppets. The Teachers pull the strings and we dance.
Thursday, April 12, 2007
The next big dates for the Leafs are the opening of free agency on July 1st and the 2007 draft. In that vein, I saw this video on Deadspin and thought that this might provide some cheer during the playoffs (until Vancouver, Ottawa, and Calgary are eliminated). The Leafs have certainly improved their drafting in recent years but they still had some dogs but nothing like what NY Jets fans have suffered. I love the booing as soon as they hear the position of the player being drafted or that guy that says that maybe the Jets management knew something that no one else did that made bypassing DAN MARINO make sense or seeing them pick a tight end instead of Warren Sapp.
Last night's game was enough to tremble the foundations of the most loyal Leaf fans. It certainly has not been the first and it will not be the last. That is the dichotomy of being a fan. There are no highs without the lows. Red Wing fans had to endure 42 years of mediocre, incompetent, and mentally weak teams before they were able to celebrate a Stanley Cup. The Rangers went 54 years of the same. Neither franchise ever really got close (lopsided Finals defeats aside) but the fans stuck with their team and in the end they were able to savour reaching the mountaintop.
aquietgirl's post serves as a reminder that as bad as things get there is always tomorrow. I have been a huge Liverpool fan and You'll Never Walk Alone, the team's anthem (no God Save the Queen in Liverpool) serves to remind the fans and players that they are inexorably bound.
When you walk through a storm Keep your head up high And don't be afraid of the dark. At the end of the storm Is a golden sky And the sweet silver song of a lark. Walk on through the wind, Walk on through the rain, Tho' your dreams be tossed and blown. Walk on, walk on With hope in your heart And you'll never walk alone, You'll never walk alone.
I have had the privilege of travelling to Anfield to sing YNWA in the stands and I have heard it sung at various times. I have heard it before every game, seconds after a last minute goal has consigned Liverpool to a bitter defeat, and after important victories. At that point, the players and fans struggles are validated as they have seen the fruits of their labours. A perfect example is during the 2005 Champions League semi-final versus Chelsea. The Chelsea players were visibly shaken when they entered the pitch and were met by a wall of sound.
The most spectacular rendition came at half-time in Istanbul during the 2005 Champions League Final when Liverpool trailed 3-0 and seemed destined to lose in embarrassing fashion. The 60,000 strong contingent belted out one of the strongest renditions in the club's history. Down the tunnel a jubilant AC Milan could hear the thundering voices and feel the shaking stand while a seemingly beaten Liverpool was given new life. Their coach, Rafa Benitez, used the fan's commitment to inspire his players on to one of the greatest comebacks in sports history.
"I said: ‘Don’t let your heads drop. We’re Liverpool. You’re playing for Liverpool. Don’t forget that. You have to hold your heads high for the supporters. You have to do it for them. ‘You can’t call yourselves Liverpool players if you have your heads down. If we create a few chances we have the possibility of getting back into this. Believe you can do it and you will. Give yourself the chance to be heroes’."
On Saturday night, Leaf fans will have to play the part of a 7th man for the team. Their commitment to the team and the team's response have been evident over the Leafs eight game winning streak at the ACC and game 82 will require more of the same. Too often over the course of a season the rink can be quiet but as the importance of the games has risen so has the level of vocal support from the fans. Both the fans and the team will have to be at their best in order to beat the old enemy, a team that the Leafs have not met in a meaningful game since 1979, a team that stands between them and the post-season. If the Leafs succeed in stretching their winning streak to nine games they will still need some help from the Flyers and Devils to ensure that the Islanders do not pass them but they will have taken the chance to be heroes.
At the end of the day, playoffs or no playoffs, the bond between supporters and players will remain as it always has, waiting on the end of the storm and that golden sky. Go Leafs Go!
And then the Habs do them a favour by losing to the Rangers and the Leafs respond by...blowing the game in the third after they had tied it early. At the end of the year when people are asking why the Leafs are not in the playoffs the answer will not be found by laying the blame at the feet of Raycroft or any other individual but in the major defensive breakdowns (easily the cause of the majority of the goals against) that came at crippling times (the 3-2 goal tonight). Whether it was a lack of concetration, failing to clear the zone when within five feet of the blueline or RUNNING INTO EACH OTHER!!!! these braincamps have always been of the soul crippling variety.
Maybe the Leafs needed a dispiriting loss (Buffalo, NYR) so that they could be ready for Saturday night against the Habs. If they win then tonight can be forgotten but of course now the Leafs are dependent on the help of a Flyers team that is out of the playoffs and a Devils team that has already clinched the Atlantic Division. Suddenly this plan does not seem so great. At the end of the day all that the Leafs can do is win.
All three teams chasing the eighth and final playoff spot will be playing in the state of New York. Two teams will be playing on Long Island as the Leafs (89 PTS 80GP) visit the Islanders (86 PTS 79GP). After keeping themselves in the playoff picture on the basis of their excellent road record the Leafs have slumped over the past month with a 1-5-2 on the road. The Islanders are 3-3-2 in their last 8 home games but I keep having nightmares about the first round matchup between the two teams when the Leafs struggled on Long Island.
The Leafs have a 1-0-2 record against the Islanders this year including two shootout losses in which DiPietro was the difference in the game. And if his absence gives Leafs Nation any sens of calm I would dispell it by pointing out that Wade Dubielewicz made 36 saves against the Rangers and the Leafs have made mediocre goalies look great at times this year. Mats Sundin is in the midst of a goal-scoring slump with only 1 goal in his last 18. While he has been racking up the assists (16 in those 18 games) and helping Poni and Antro score goals and he has been killing penalties (huge 5-on-3 kill Tuesday) now is the time for him to regain his scoring touch.
Meanwhile, the Habs travel to Manhattan to take on the Rangers. The Rangers have been great at home since the beginning of March as they have rolled to a 6-1-1 record while only allowing 11 goals in those 8 games. The Rangers are 2-1-0 against the Habs this year but have won the only game at Madison Square Garden. Luckily the Rangers did not clinch Tuesday night and in fact, with a pair of losses to end the season, they could still miss the playoffs. A win tonight would clinch a playoff spot and allow them a couple of extra days to rest any lingering injuries.
It's 8:30 and I already feel sick and cannot think of anything else. GO LEAFS GO!
First things first, Sunday night must be forgotten. Toronto has shown an ability to put bad games behind them and when the puck drops all of their focus and energy has to be put into winning tonight's game. The Leafs need to build an early lead. Like the favourites in the NCAA tourney (Go Gators!) the Buds cannot afford to let the Flyers stick around. An underdog that is not put away early is a dangerous commodity. Putting them in a quick hole will hopefully make them quit since they realistically have nothing left to motivate them.
David Johnson has a rundown of some scenarios that will get each team into the playoffs. Needless to say, the permutations are mind-boggling. Check it out Leaf fans and let the anxiety attack sweep over your body.
Around The NHL
Here's a look at the other games that will affect the Eastern Conference playoff race:
Boston - Montreal: For the love of the Old Gardens, Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito and every Bruin that ever battled against Les Habitants please come out and play with some pride. You cannot win the Cup this year but wouldn't it make the off-season golf a little more enjoyable knowing that you kept the Habs and their fans out of the playoffs?
NY Rangers - NY Islanders: A Rangers win here combined with a Leafs win would essentially eliminate the Isles from post-season play. With DiPietro still out and the Rangers looking to clinch a playoff berth a favourable result looks to be in the cards. An Islanders loss might also soften them up for Thursday's visit to Nassau County Coliseum. Dammit! Don't look ahead!
Tampa Bay - Carolina: The Hurricanes pulled a hell of a comeback out of their collective rear ends. Apparently their goggles and swimcaps have magical powers. The Lightning beat the Hurricanes 5-2 Saturday on the road and will be looking to move one step closer to clinching a playoff spot. Repeat the feat and the Canes can pack up their bags.
Six months of an often injury-plagued and gruelling regular season comes to a close this Sunday. By 10:30PM on Saturday (if not sooner) the Leafs will know if they will be gearing up for the second season or cleaning out their lockers after another failed playoff push. The loss last night would have definitely put the Leafs in an even better position but realistically they are still in control of their fate. They could hardly have asked for a better schedule. They play the last place Flyers, against whom they have a 3-0 record, the Islanders without DiPietro, who singlehandedly (well, with some help from Kerry Fraser) beat them twice, and the Canadiens who they have outplayed almost all season (damn shootouts). Two of the last three are at the ACC which the Leafs have recently turned into the fortress that it has been in the past. The Leafs are on a seven game win streak in front of their paying customers.
The rest of the contenders' schedule really plays out well for the Leafs as well. The Hurricanes travel to Tampa and play the Thrashers which are tough divisional rivals. The Canadiens travel to Boston to face the Bruins who could always decide to finally play the spoiler against their old rivals and the Rangers in New York where they have been almost untouchable in the last six games. If the Leafs knock off the Flyers and the Rangers do the Leafs a favour by beating the Islanders then they will basically be eliminated come Thursday night.
Overall the schedule favours the Leafs in terms of getting help of their rivals but ultimately, if they win their three games, those results are essentially extraneous to the team's ultimate success. The final push starts Tuesday at 7:30pm.
Maple Leafs - Tuesday Flyers, Thursday @ Islanders, Saturday Canadiens
Tough game tonight eh? I know you guys don't like pressure and knowing that a win would have put you in a tie for 7th must have raised the blood pressure a bit. That must be why you guys made about a month's worth of mental errors in the game tonight. 7-2? You guys knew it was game 79 tonight right? I don't know if anyone told you but April Fools ends at noon and this game certainly wouldn't have found itself on any list of accepted pranks.
It sort of reminded me of the way that you guys came out and were destroyed in back-to-back games in Montreal last year. The team was really left for dead after that pair of stinkers but you guys reeled off a 9-1-2 finish to the season. It was not enough to make up the ground since you didn't play any teams that you were chasing. I guess playing with the lowered expectations of the fanbase and press felt liberating but it's not something I would encourage.
The reaction tomorrow in the press and among a lot of fans will be to quit on the team. Last Saturday morning, after your great third period against the Sabres, the papers were awash with articles about how the team didn't deserve to be in the playoffs and how the season was over. Then Sunday morning, after the 4-1 win, they ran the complete opposite stories. Seriously, it was like reading freaking Mad Libs that were filled in with an optimistic viewpoint instead of their usual pessimistic spin. You can expect to read a lot of the same tomorrow. If it helps you play the kind of hockey that saw you beat the Devils, Sabres, Hurricanes, and Penguins than you should accept the pessimism. Feel liberated from the crushing expectations of a fanbase that has not celebrated a Stanley Cup in 38 seasons.
If you can rebound from today's debacle like you did after blowing leads against the Sabres and Penguins then you'll be in good shape. Your destiny is still in your own hands but don't think that it means that you are expected to beat three teams that you have dominated this year (not entirely in results but on the balance of play). That might increase the pressure and we wouldn't want you guys squeezing your sticks or letting opposition forwards stand unmolested in front of the net. Not only do you guys face the worst team in the East (Philadelphia) at home and a DiPietro-less Islanders squad that could already be eliminated from the playoffs by game time but you get to face your oldest rival on home ice in a game that will most likely decide the 8th seed.
Those three games look pretty winnable but only if you play the kind of hard forechecking, opportunistic hockey that has kept you guys in the playoff race despite losing over 330 man games to injury. Three wins would see you guys qualify for the playoffs and since you'll be expected to get drilled in the first round you'd probably have a chance at springing a surprise since it would be totally unexpected. Let me tell you that a playoff spot in itself would be appreciated greatly. Things are hard enough as fans when your drought is heading towards 4 decades but when you miss the playoffs you really put us in a tough position. Fans of other teams start crawling out of the woodwork to take potshots not to mention having to deal with the bandwagoners. A playoff spot would be appreciate but no pressure. That's the last thing you guys need.
Below are the standings with which we awoke last Monday. The Leafs started the week off in eleventh looking up at the Islanders, Hurricanes, and Canadiens in the race for eighth. With a combination of some good hockey and some help the Leafs find themselves still in control of their own destiny with three games left in the season. Here is a look at the results from the past week:
Leafs Charged with Attempted Murder, Escape with Win
Luckily for the Leafs Julie Beattie, a nurse from McMaster University Hospital (I hear that she walks and talks a little faster than her Brock counterparts), was in the stands as her quick reaction and CPR training saved the life of a fan that had just seen his team cough up a 4-1 lead for the second time in the past fortnight when Ryan Whitney buried his shot with just over four seconds remaining in the third.
Like that Sabres game a scant eight days ago, there is a lot of good to take away from this game. Andrew Raycroft played a very good game. The three goals could hardly be laid at his feet (in order their would be Kubina, Poni, and Poni/McCabe's fault) and his play through the first 55 minutes was what must be replicated tonight against the Rangers in order to keep the Leafs in the playoff picture. For those first 55 minutes the Leafs held a team that they had struggled against under control and had built a strong lead. And the biggest plus was the Leafs' reaction to losing their lead late. Instead of folding up their tent they came out and completely dominated the overtime period before Tomas Kaberle scored his second of the game on a long shot from the point. The Leafs certainly picked the perfect game in which to break their goose egg against the Pens.
Tonight the Leafs play their game in hand on the Habs as they travel to Madison Square Garden to take on the Rangers. Last night the Leafs received no help as the Rangers, Lightning, and Habs all won their games (Stupid Buffalo!). The season series stands at 2-0-1 in the Leafs favour including a 5-4 loss in overtime that featured a barnstorming third period by the good guys, a 9-2 blowout which saw Wellwood and Ponikarovsky tally five points, and a 2-1 nailbiter in one of Raycroft's best performances as his 37 saves featured a few of the spectacular variety. The Leafs will be facing a white-hot Henrik Lundqvist and the usual suspects (Jagr, Straka, Nylander) who will need to be shut down to give the Leafs a chance to not only leapfrog the Habs but tie the Rangers for 7th in the conference.
I became a fan in the 80s. I lived through Allan Bester's fivehole. I saw grown men cry when Gretzky scored a hat-trick in THAT game 7. I drove 160km/hr to get to a Yonge Street parade. I remained a Leafs fan even though Ottawa got a team. I spent an entire paycheque to see Game 3 against the Canes. I live and die with the Leafs. That makes me a real fan. These are my thoughts.