An Open Letter to the Maple Leafs
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.