By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Mar. 10) – Though many are convinced – justifiably – that playoff aspiration is no longer within reach for the Maple Leafs, this weekend could easily determine the club’s fate.
Toronto and Washington each play on Saturday, and then hook up at the Verizon Center late Sunday afternoon. The Capitals began the weekend in eighth place in the Eastern Conference with 72 points, five ahead of the 12th-place Leafs. Disregarding, for a moment, that Winnipeg, Buffalo and Tampa Bay stand between the Leafs and Capitals, an eight-point swing is possible.
If Washington loses in regulation time to Boston [this afternoon] and Toronto, and the Leafs attain victories at home to Philadelphia [tonight], then in regulation at Washington, the gap between the teams narrows to a single point. If the opposite occurs – Capitals win both their weekend matches, beating Toronto in regulation, and Leafs drop both their games in regulation – the Caps retain eighth place by a nine-point margin over Toronto.
Should the latter circumstance prevail, the countdown toward the Leafs’ mathematical elimination will begin. Should the former prevail – and despite results of games involving Buffalo and Tampa Bay [Winnipeg is idle this weekend] – the scramble for that final post-season berth will escalate to new heights. The Sabres are in Ottawa tonight while Tampa Bay hosts Carolina.
PHOTO I TOOK (ABOVE) DURING LEAFS-CAPITALS GAME AT WASHINGTON ON DEC. 9 – A 4-2 VICTORY FOR THE HOME SIDE IN WHICH DEFENSEMAN DENNIS WIDEMAN SCORED TWICE.
Amid the overwhelming drivel in chat forums and Internet message boards, a meaningful, heart-felt thread appeared yesterday in the Leafs section of community chatter on Sportsnet.ca – one that likely reflects the emotion of innumerable Toronto hockey fans. Started by a person calling himself JustLoseAgain (too bad the individual had to hide beneath a moniker; if he or she would like to be identified, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org), the topic was entitled: “How Much More Can You Take?” I’m posting a link to the thread here because I believe it speaks openly to a growing concern for the Maple Leafs: the notion of a limit – or ceiling – involving the legendary patience and resolve among supporters of the Blue and White:
The opening salvo – edited for spelling and grammar – was this:
How many more years without playoffs do you think you’ll be able to handle as a fan before your interest in the team wanes – not to the point of picking another team – but where indifference settles in and you find other things to do? I can honestly say I’ve watched a limited number of Leaf games from start to finish in the past couple of months and have sold almost every ticket over that span. The last game I went to was the old “down 2-0 within six minutes.” From the late ’90s to a couple of years ago, I watched nearly every game and attended 12-20 games per year.
I know this team has issues, and not all are [Brian] Burke’s fault, but I can only watch epic failure for so long before it simply becomes “meh.” I’m fairly close to that point; I actually believe that if Burke rolls the two dogs we have in goal next season, I’ll tune into the Leafs like I do the Raptors – until they prove they don’t suck.
There are some good, young prospects coming and some fairly decent components on the team. But, man, how sad is it that all NHL teams except ours will make the playoffs in the post-lockout era, assuming Florida qualifies this season? The team with more fans, more money and more attention than any other in the league. That’s a shame in my books, and I think I understand how Leafs lost a block of fans during the awful ’80s.
My intention here is not to promote self-sympathy or to crap on the team. But, how close do you feel you are to the Leafs becoming “meh?”
An interesting and potentially hazardous notion for the Blue and White.
LEAF SUPPORTERS ARE UBIQUITOUS – IN VANCOUVER (ABOVE) ON FEB. 18.
With Jonas Gustavsson making a fourth consecutive start for the Leafs tonight, we’ll find out tomorrow whether coach Randy Carlyle has any confidence in James Reimer. The Toronto-Washington game at Verizon Center starts at 5 p.m., and the teams lose an extra hour with clocks “springing forward” overnight for Daylight Savings Time.
Gustavsson could post a 50-save shutout against the Flyers; if he’s in goal again tomorrow, under any circumstance, we’ll be crystal-clear on Carlyle’s position relating to Optimus Reim [ending paragraph rhyme coincidental].
WE’LL KNOW SOON WHETHER JAMES REIMER HAS A STICK WITH RANDY CARLYLE.
Facebook: Howard Berger [Thornhill ON]