Playoff Undertaker Poised For Leafs

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Mar. 11) – Somewhere at the Verizon Center in Washington early Sunday evening will be a bugle all polished up and ready to play Taps for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Though the Leafs will still be very much alive mathematically for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, a loss to the eighth-place Capitals will all but disqualify Toronto for the seventh consecutive season.

Washington came up huge in Boston on Saturday afternoon, beating the defending champions 4-3, and enter Sunday’s home encounter six points up on the Leafs. Should the Capitals make it seven or eight in the head-to-head meeting, Leaf fans can officially put the undertaker on call.

Saturday night’s shootout loss to Philadelphia at the Air Canada Centre left fans of the Blue and White shaking their heads once again. Since early-February, the Leafs have not been able to keep the puck out of their net. Suddenly, they hold the highest-scoring team in the NHL scoreless through 65 minutes of regulation and overtime, but cannot buy a goal themselves. Jonas Gustavsson isn’t likely to record as unsatisfying a shut-out anytime in the near future. 

REFEREE DON VAN MASSENHOVEN DROPS PUCK ON SATURDAY NIGHT BETWEEN LEAFS NEW MULTI-MILLIONAIRE MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI AND FLYERS CENTRE SCOTT HARTNELL.

It was a dreary night for Leaf fans, who weren’t able to witness a goal by the home side. Toronto’s slump continued – Leafs dropping to 2-11-2 since Feb. 7. It took a splendid move in the shoot-out by Flyers’ star Claude Giroux to light the lamp for the only time. Phil Kessel was then foiled by Ilya Bryzgalov and the ACC emptied quietly once again.

My photo-review, now, of the Toronto-Philadelphia game: 

THE DAYS WERE GETTING LONGER (ABOVE) EVEN BEFORE TURNING CLOCKS AHEAD ONE HOUR TO DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME AT 2 A.M. SUNDAY. IN THE DISTANT PAST, SUCH TRANSITION HAD TORONTO HOCKEY FANS EXCITED FOR THE STANLEY CUP PLAYOFFS, BUT IT SEEMS ALMOST CERTAIN THAT NINE YEARS WILL HAVE ELAPSED BEFORE THE LEAFS GET ANOTHER OPPORTUNITY – NEXT SPRING – TO BUST THEIR FRANCHISE-RECORD DROUGHT.

JAROMIR JAGR RETURNS TO VISITORS’ DRESSING ROOM (ABOVE) AFTER LIMBERING UP IN HALL-WAY PRIOR TO THE GAME AND DOUG TRANQUADA SINGS THE NATIONAL ANTHEMS (BELOW) SEVERAL MOMENTS LATER.

OPENING FACE-OFF, UNDER THE SPOTLIGHT AT AIR CANADA CENTRE.

MUCH OF SATURDAY’S GAME WAS PLAYED – AS ABOVE – IN THE NEUTRAL ZONE.

BRYZGALOV DID HAVE SOME VISITORS – ROOKIE CARTER ASHTON (ABOVE) AND VETERAN DAVID STECKEL (BELOW) – BUT HE KEPT THE PUCK OUT ALL NIGHT LONG.

IT APPEARED THAT JAY ROSEHILL AND FLYERS’ PEST ZAC RINALDO MIGHT SQUARE OFF (ABOVE), BUT COOLER HEADS PREVAILED.

  

OFTEN A FRIGHTENING SCENE FOR LEAF FANS: GUSTAVSSON STRAYING FROM HIS ‘CREASE AND HANDLING THE PUCK BEHIND THE NET – AS HE DID ABOVE. BUT, THERE WERE NO MISADVENTURES ON THIS NIGHT.

LEAFS WORKED FAIRLY HARD AGAINST THE FLYERS – MIKE KOMISAREK AND CLARKE MacARTHUR BATTLING IN THE CORNER (ABOVE). BUT, IT RARELY TRANSLATED TO A SCORING OPPORTUNITY.

NO TORONTO-PHILADELPHIA GAME WOULD BE COMPLETE WITHOUT AT LEAST ONE POST-WHISTLE “MEETING” – ASHTON AND RINALDO THE PRIME MOVERS IN THE ABOVE SCRUM.

TYLER BOZAK APPEARED TO BE URGING THE CLOCK TO MOVE A LITTLE FASTER (ABOVE-LEFT) WHILE HARTNELL TOOK UP A BEEF WITH REFEREE DENNIS LaRUE.

LEAFS DEFENSEMAN JOHN-MICHAEL LILES LEADS A FIRST-PERIOD RUSH UP-ICE (ABOVE).

LUKE SCHENN’S BROTHER LINES UP ALONGSIDE LUKE SCHENN’S TEAMMATE (ABOVE) FOR FACE-OFF AT CENTRE ICE. BRAYDEN SCHENN – ACQUIRED FROM LOS ANGELES IN THE MIKE RICHARDS TRADE LAST JUNE – HAS REVOVERED FROM A BROKEN FOOT SUFFERED EARLIER IN THE SEASON.

ACC VIDEO-BOARD (ABOVE) TELLS STORY OF A LISTLESS START FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS AT 12:40 OF THE OPENING PERIOD. AFTER 40 MINUTES, MIKE KOMISAREK AND JAY ROSEHILL LED THE CLUB IN SHOTS ON GOAL – HARDLY A TRIUMPHANT RECIPE.

UNDOUBTEDLY SEEKING MORE FIREWORKS FROM DON CHERRY, THE USUAL MEDIA CLUSTER WATCHED COACH’S CORNER (ABOVE) IN THE FIRST INTERMISSION, BUT THERE WAS NARY A MENTION OF BRIAN BURKE.

BRYZGALOV WAS A BIT BUSIER IN THE SECOND PERIOD (ABOVE AND BELOW), BUT HE MAINTAINED PERFECTION.

NOT EVEN A SPRAY OF ICE FROM A LEAFS FORWARD COULD DISTRACT BRYZGALOV, THOUGH IT TEMPORARILY OBSCURED THE FLYERS LOGO ON THE FRONT OF HIS JERSEY (ABOVE).

THE VETERAN JAGR (ABOVE) WAS ALL OVER THE ICE – AS PER USUAL – AGAINST THE LEAFS. 

RANDY CARLYLE DILLGENTLY ATTEMPTED TO DIAGRAM SOME OFFENSE DURING TELEVISION BREAKS (ABOVE) – BUT TO NO AVAIL ON THIS NIGHT.

BRYZGALOV HAD TO BE ALERT ON SEVERAL OCCASIONS IN THE THIRD PERIOD (ABOVE), BUT HE ALSO WAS PROVIDED MORE-THAN ADEQUATE SUPPORT FROM HIS TEAMMATES (BELOW).

THE FLYERS TWICE CAME CLOSE TO SCORING LATE IN REGULATION TIME (ABOVE).

ZEROES WERE RAMPANT ON THE ACC VIDEO-BOARD – AT THE END OF REGULATION (ABOVE); THE BEGINNING OF OVERTIME (BELOW-LEFT) AND THE CONCLUSION OF THE FIVE-MINUTE SESSION (BELOW-RIGHT).

     

BRYZGALOV RESTED AT THE FLYERS BENCH BEFORE THE SHOOT-OUT (ABOVE) AND STEADIED TO FACE TYLER BOZAK (BELOW) ON THE LEAFS INITIAL ATTEMPT.

CLAUDE GIROUX MADE A PRETZEL OUT OF GUSTAVSSON TO SCORE THE ONLY GOAL OF THE NIGHT (ABOVE-LEFT) AND THEN ACCEPTED HIGH-FIVE’S FROM TEAMMATES AT THE BENCH.

BRYZGALOV THWARTED KESSEL ON THE LEAFS FINAL CHANCE (ABOVE) AND RECEIVED PROPS FROM HIS TEAMMATES (BELOW), AS PHILADELPHIA WON ITS FIFTH IN A ROW.

THE FLYERS GOALIE WAS INTERVIEWED ON PHILADELPHIA TV BY STEVE COATES AFTER THE WIN (ABOVE) AND REMOVED HIS EQUIPMENT (BELOW) IN THE VISITORS’ DRESSING ROOM.

     

SCOTT HARTNELL IN POST-GAME MEDIA SCRUM (ABOVE).

THE ABOVE LIGHTS ARE FROM A LARGE JET-LINER PASSING OVERHEAD MY HOME IN THORNHILL WHILE ON FINAL APPROACH TO PEARSON AIRPORT – THE IMAGE DISTORTED BY JIGGLING MY CAMERA IN “FIREWORKS” MODE. I HELD AS STILL AS POSSIBLE TO PHOTOGRAPH A BRILLIANT MOON (BELOW), HOURS BEFORE THE ONSET OF DAYLIGHT SAVINGS TIME.

 

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