Images of 2011-12 Leafs Season – Part 2

By HOWARD BERGER

LOS ANGELES (Aug. 12) – In a string of fruitless, abysmal performances since the owners’ lockout of 2004-05, Maple Leafs took futility to an all-new level in the final months of last season. Sitting confidently, it appeared, in playoff contention on Feb. 7, Leafs fell apart, compiling a 7-17-4 record over their final 28 games to miss out on the post-season once again. A 1-9-1 free-fall from Feb. 7-29 cost Ron Wilson his job as coach of the Blue and White; Randy Carlyle took over for a Mar. 3 game in Montreal – won his debut – and then watched his new club stumble to a 5-9-3 mark the rest of the way, highlighted by embarrassing defeats at Boston (8-0, Mar. 19) and at home to Philadelphia (7-1, Mar. 29). It marked the lowest point for Leaf fans since the lockout.

With my trusty Nikon in hand – at home and on the road – I snapped the following images of a Leafs season gone terribly wrong:

TORONTO (JAN. 7) – THE NOTION OF A 1-9-1 COLLAPSE BY THE MAPLE LEAFS WAS IMPLAUSIBLE A MONTH BEFORE IT BEGAN, AS THE CLUB BUILT AN EARLY LEAD (ABOVE) OVER PERENNIAL POWER DETROIT AND HUNG ON FOR A 4-3 VICTORY AT AIR CANADA CENTRE (BELOW) – IMPROVING TO 21-15-5 AT THE HALFWAY MARK OF THE SCHEDULE.

   

BUFFALO (JAN. 12) – THIS WAS A NIGHT I’LL NOT-SOON FORGET (ABOVE), AS VIOLENT WIND-GUSTS LASHED MY DOWNTOWN HOTEL IN THE EVOLUTION OF A BLIZZARD THAT MADE SLEEP IN SABRE-LAND IMPOSSIBLE AND HAMPERED THE EARLY-MORNING COMMUTE (BELOW). 

   

BUFFALO (JAN. 13) – WEARING THEIR BLUE ALTERNATE JERSEY ON THE ROAD FOR THE FIRST TIME (ABOVE AND BELOW) DIDN’T HELP LEAFS CONQUER FIRST NIAGARA CENTER. AS PER USUAL, TORONTO LOST IN THE ARENA OF ITS CLOSEST GEOGRAPHIC NEIGHBOR.

TORONTO (JAN. 14) – THOUGH KING HENRIK HAD THE NIGHT OFF (ABOVE), LEAFS WERE BLANKED, 3-0, BY NEW YORK RANGERS AT AIR CANADA CENTER DESPITE NAZEM KADRI’S ATTEMPT (BELOW) TO MAKE LIFE MISERABLE FOR BACK-UP GOALIE MARTY BIRON. 

TORONTO (JAN. 14) – IT WAS THE ANNUAL “TROOPS NIGHT” AT AIR CANADA CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW) – LEAFS MANAGEMENT AND PLAYERS MINGLING WITH MEMBERS OF THE CANADIAN MILITARY AND THEIR FAMILIES AFTER THE HOCKEY GAME. 

TORONTO (JAN. 19) – DOWNTRODDEN MINNESOTA WILD PLAYERS LOOK ON (ABOVE) IN MIDST OF A 4-1 LOSS AT ACC; HARDLY A BANNER NIGHT FOR GOALIE NIKLAS BACKSTROM (BELOW).

   

EN ROUTE TO OTTAWA (JAN. 27) – TREKKING MORE THAN FIVE HOURS TO OUR NATION’S CAPITAL FOR NHL ALL-STAR MEDIA DAY WAS HARDLY A THRILL (ABOVE AND BELOW) DURING ICE STORM AND BLINDING SNOW. BUT, I MADE IT.

OTTAWA (JAN. 27) – HOCKEY’S GREATEST PLAYERS GATHERED IN A GIANT BALLROOM AT THE WESTIN HOTEL TO MINGLE WITH REPORTERS. LEAFS CAPTAIN DION PHANEUF CHATTED (ABOVE) WHILE (LEFT-TO-RIGHT, BELOW) PHIL KESSEL, JOFFREY LUPUL, JAROME IGINLA AND ZDENO CHARA HAD THEIR SAY IN A FRIENDLY, CASUAL ENVIRONMENT.

         

OTTAWA (JAN. 27) – SNOW CONTINUED TO FALL LATE IN THE AFTERNOON AT PARLIAMENT HILL (ABOVE): THE CENTENNIAL FLAME BUFFETED BY A GUSTY WIND.

OTTAWA (JAN. 28) – A MAMMOTH ICE SCULPTURE (ABOVE) WELCOMED VISITORS TO SCOTIABANK PLACE FOR ALL-STAR SKILLS COMPETITION ON FROSTY SATURDAY NIGHT.

OTTAWA (JAN. 28) – EVEN THE MOST FIERCE DIVISION RIVALS, SUCH AS DION PHANEUF AND TIM THOMAS (ABOVE), PUT DIFFERENCES ASIDE AS PLAYERS MINGLED ON SCOTIABANK CENTRE ICE DURING SKILLS COMPETITION – WEARING THEIR CLUB UNIFORMS.

TORONTO (FEB. 6) – HOME OF THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS FROM 1931 TO 1999, MAPLE LEAF GARDENS, STILL RESIDES AT THE FAMED INTERSECTION OF CHURCH AND CARLTON – A GIGANTIC LOBLAWS SHOPPING STORE ENCOMPASSING THE BULK OF ITS MAIN LEVEL.

TORONTO (FEB. 1) – LEGITIMATELY IN PLAYOFF CONTENTION, LEAFS BEGAN THEIR DEFINING MONTH OF THE 2011-12 SEASON ON A TRIUMPHANT NOTE: JAMES REIMER BLANKING EVGENI MALKIN AND THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS, 1-0 (ABOVE) – CLARKE MacARTHUR SCORING THE GAME’S ONLY GOAL WITH 6:05 LEFT IN REGULATION TIME.

WINNIPEG (FEB. 7) – NEITHER THE LEAFS NOR THEIR LEGION OF FOLLOWERS HAD ANY INKLING THE CLUB’S PLAYOFF ASPIRATION – VERY MUCH ALIVE ON THIS COLD MORNING IN MANITOBA (ABOVE) – WOULD BEGIN TO UNRAVEL AT NIGHT IN THE MTS CENTRE.

WINNIPEG (FEB. 7) – LEAFS WENT INTO THEIR SECOND AND FINAL ROAD GAME AGAINST THE JETS (ABOVE AND BELOW) RIDING A 10-4-2 HOT STREAK AND WITH A RECORD OF 28-19-6 AFTER 53 GAMES. THEY SAT JUST FOUR POINTS BENEATH FOURTH PLACE IN THE EASTERN CONFERENCE. WEARY FROM A GAME AT AIR CANADA CENTRE AGAINST EDMONTON THE NIGHT BEFORE, LEAFS FOUGHT HARD BUT DROPPED A 2-1 DECISION. NO PERSON WOULD HAVE EXPECTED THE CLUB TO WIN JUST TWO OF ITS NEXT 17 GAMES AND COLLAPSE MORE PRODIGIOUSLY THAN ANY TORONTO TEAM IN MODERN NHL HISTORY.

TORONTO (FEB. 11) – THE 1-9-1 FREE-FALL THAT DESTROYED LEAFS SEASON WAS PUNCTUATED BY A DISGRACEFUL PERFORMANCE AGAINST RIVAL MONTREAL ON MATS SUNDIN NIGHT AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE. DESPITE A MOVING PRE-GAME CEREMONY; INSPIRING SPEECH FROM THE FRANCHISE SCORING LEADER (ABOVE AND BELOW), AND THE RAISING OF SUNDIN’S NO. 13 BANNER TO THE RAFTERS, LEAFS WERE OBLITERATED 5-0 BY THE CANADIENS. IT MAY HAVE BEEN THE SEASON’S LOW POINT – AMONG MANY.

CALGARY (FEB. 14) – AFTER A VALENTINE’S DAY VISIT TO THE CALGARY TOWER (ABOVE) WITH VIEWS OF THE SADDLEDOME AND CANADIAN ROCKIES (BELOW), I MADE MY WAY TO THE ARENA IN STAMPEDE PARK FOR LEAFS MORNING SKATE.

CALGARY (FEB. 14) – ACROSS FROM THE SADDLEDOME IS THE OLD CALGARY CORRAL (ABOVE AND BELOW), WHERE THE FLAMES PLAYED FROM OCTOBER 1980 TO OCTOBER 1983.

CALGARY (FEB. 14) – SADDLEDOME FILLED UP (ABOVE); FANS WATCHED MIIKKA KIPRUSOFF (BOTTOM-LEFT) AND FLAMES PROLONG THE LEAFS LOSING STREAK WITH A 5-1 ROUT.

EDMONTON (FEB. 15) – AFTER DROPPING FOUR GAMES IN SUCCESSION, LEAFS WENT TO REXALL PLACE (ABOVE AND BELOW); SCORED TWICE IN THE FIRST 98 SECONDS, AND EKED OUT A 4-3 VICTORY OVER THE OILERS ON TIM CONNOLLY’S GOAL AT 1:39 OF OVERTIME. IT WOULD BE TORONTO’S LONE VICTORY IN AN 11-GAME SPAN FROM FEB. 7-29. 

VANCOUVER (FEB. 16) – FLYING OVER THE CANADIAN ROCKIES (ABOVE) ON TRIP WEST FROM EDMONTON AND STAYING ACROSS FROM ILLUMINATED B.C. PLACE STADIUM (BELOW).

VANCOUVER (FEB. 17) – WITH THE NHL TRADE DEADLINE APPROACHING, LEAFS GM BRIAN BURKE KEPT BUSY ON THE PHONE (ABOVE) WHILE SITTING IN ROGERS ARENA DURING THE CLUB’S PRACTICE. MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI SMILED FOR THE CAMERA (BELOW) AS TEAMMATE KEITH AULIE LOOKED ON DURING 70-MINUTE WORKOUT.

VANCOUVER (FEB. 18) – THE LEAFS PROVIDED MINIMAL PUSH-BACK BEFORE A NATIONWIDE AUDIENCE ON HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA, GETTING ROUTED, 6-2, BY THE CANUCKS; VANCOUVER CAPTAIN DANIEL SEDIN WAS WIRED UP FOR INTERVIEW AFTERWARD (BELOW) AFTER SCORING ONCE AND SETTING UP THREE OTHERS.

   

TORONTO (FEB. 23) – THE LONE VISIT OF THE SEASON BY SAN JOSE (ABOVE AND BELOW) DID NOTHING TO ABET LEAFS’ LOSING WAYS, THOUGH THE SHARKS HAD TO SCRAP FOR A 2-1 VICTORY THAT DROPPED TORONTO’S RECORD TO 1-5-1 IN ITS PAST SEVEN GAMES. PATRICK MARLEAU (TWO PHOTOS DOWN) WAS INTERVIEWED ON SAN JOSE TV OUTSIDE VISITORS’ DRESSING ROOM AFTER SCORING THE GAME-WINNING GOAL.

CHICAGO (FEB. 28) – A VISIT TO THE 96th-FLOOR OBSERVATION DECK OF THE JOHN HANCOCK TOWER ON THE FAMED “MAGNIFICENT MILE” (ABOVE AND BELOW) HIGHLIGHTED THE AFTERNOON PRIOR TO LEAFS CLASH WITH THE BLACKHAWKS AT UNITED CENTER.

CHICAGO (FEB. 29) – LEAP-YEAR APPROACH ALONG W. MADISON ST. (ABOVE) TO THE NHL’s MOST CAVERNOUS BUILDING – UNITED CENTER – AND IMAGES (BELOW) FROM THE CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS OPTIONAL MORNING SKATE. LEAFS STAYED IN THEIR DOWNTOWN HOTEL.

CHICAGO (FEB. 29) – PRE-GAME WARM-UP (ABOVE) AND OPENING MINUTE (BELOW) OF LEAFS-BLACKHAWKS ENCOUNTER. THOUGH TYLER BOZAK SCORED FOR VISITORS 59 SECONDS INTO THE MATCH (BOTTOM-RIGHT), CHICAGO PREVAILED, 5-4, DROPPING LEAFS RECORD TO 1-9-1 IN 11 GAMES. RON WILSON WOULD THEREFORE CONDUCT HIS FINAL POST-GAME MEDIA GATHERING (TWO PHOTOS DOWN) AS COACH OF THE BLUE AND WHITE.

MONTREAL (MAR. 3) – THE MORNING AFTER HE FIRED RON WILSON, LEAFS GM BRIAN BURKE (TOP-RIGHT) INTRODUCED RANDY CARLYLE AS THE CLUB’S NEW COACH DURING PRESS CONFERENCE AT THE BELL CENTRE. CARLYLE THEN PUT HIS TEAM THROUGH MORNING PACES FOR THE FIRST TIME (BELOW) AS A SMALL ARMY LOOKED ON FROM THE STANDS.

MONTREAL (MAR. 3) – PRE-GAME LIGHT SHOW AT BELL CENTRE (ABOVE) LED TO MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI (BOTTOM-LEFT) SCORING GAME WINNER IN 3-1 LEAFS VICTORY OVER CANADIENS, PROVIDING RANDY CARLYLE TRIUMPHANT DEBUT BEHIND TORONTO BENCH.

TORONTO (MAR. 10) – LEAFS AND FLYERS RESUMED HOSTILITY AT AIR CANADA CENTRE (ABOVE AND BELOW) IN 1-0 SHOOT-OUT WIN FOR PHILADELPHIA THAT DROPPED TORONTO’S RECORD TO A REVOLTING 2-12-1 IN 15 GAMES SINCE FEB. 7.

WASHINGTON (MAR. 11) – PASSING BY DOWNTOWN TORONTO AND LAKE-SHORE (ABOVE) ON FLIGHT TO WASHINGTON FOR 2-0 CAPITALS VICTORY OVER THE LEAFS (BELOW). 

SUNRISE, Fla. (MAR. 13) – LEAFS DEATH-SPIRAL CONTINUED IN 5-2 LOSS TO FLORIDA PANTHERS AT BANKATLANTIC CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW), SINKING TORONTO TO 2-14-1 IN 17 GAMES (1-4-1 SINCE RANDY CARLYLE REPLACED RON WILSON).

   

TAMPA (MAR. 14) – TAKING OFF OVER FORT LAUDERDALE BEACH AND ATLANTIC COASTLINE (ABOVE), AND FLYING PAST DOWNTOWN ST. PETERSBURG (WITH TROPICANA FIELD, HOME OF BASEBALL TAMPA BAY RAYS IN CENTER) EN ROUTE TO TAMPA INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT.

TAMPA (MAR. 15) – MAPLE LEAFS PRACTICED AT TAMPA BAY TIMES FORUM (ABOVE AND BELOW) ON AFTERNOON BETWEEN GAMES IN FLORIDA.

TAMPA (MAR. 16) – AFTER ENJOYING DINNER IN MEDIA LOUNGE OF TAMPA BAY TIMES FORUM WITH (TOP, LEFT-TO-RIGHT) JIM DEVELLANO, DAN BELISLE AND SCOTTY BOWMAN, I WATCHED LEAFS WIN ONLY THEIR SECOND GAME FOR RANDY CARLYLE – 3-1 OVER THE LIGHTNING. STEVEN STAMKOS HAD A FRUSTRATING NIGHT, JUMPING DION PAHNEUF IN THIRD-PERIOD ALTERCATION (BELOW, TOP-RIGHT), WHILE WINNING GOALIE JAMES REIMER WAS ALL SMILES AFTERWARD IN VISITORS’ DRESSING ROOM.

BOSTON (MAR. 19) – INTERIOR OF TD GARDEN (ABOVE AND BELOW) HOURS BEFORE THE MAPLE LEAFS MOST HUMILIATING NIGHT OF THE 2011-12 NHL SEASON.

BOSTON (MAR. 19) – SCOREBOARD ABOVE CENTER-ICE TELLS STORY FROM THE DEFINING GAME OF THE MAPLE LEAFS COLLAPSE IN 2011-12. ONLY LUKE SCHENN AND MIKE KOMISAREK (SCRAPPING BELOW WITH NEMESIS MILAN LUCIC) SHOWED UP ON A NIGHT THE LEAFS WERE VISIBLY PETRIFIED TO BE ON THE SAME ICE AS THEIR DIVISION RIVAL. 

TORONTO (MAR. 20) – FLIGHT HOME FROM BOSTON (ABOVE) PRECEDED MORE HUMILIATION FOR THE LEAFS, WHO WERE TROUNCED, 5-2, ON HOME ICE BY THE NEW YORK ISLANDERS (BELOW). LEAFS FELL TO A GHASTLY 4-15-2 IN 21 GAMES SINCE FEB. 7.

NEWARK (MAR. 23) – LEAFS TAKE TO ICE AT PRUDENTIAL CENTER (ABOVE AND BELOW) FOR MORNING SKATE PRIOR TO GAME AGAINST EVENTUAL EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS.

   

NEWARK (MAR. 23) – TURNING BACK THE CLOCK TO HIS ASTOUNDING ROOKIE SEASON, JAMES REIMER (ABOVE) KEPT LEAFS ALIVE THROUGH REGULATION AND OVERTIME, AS DEVILS OUT-GUNNED VISITORS, 46-17. LEAFS THEN WON THE OTHERWISE LOP-SIDED MATCH, 4-3, ON A SCINTILLATING MOVE IN THE SHOOT-OUT (BOTTOM-LEFT) BY NAZEM KADRI, WHO WAS MOBBED BY HIS TEAMMATES AFTERWARD AT CENTER ICE.

TORONTO (MAR. 27) – LEAFS WERE FINALLY ELIMINATED FROM PLAYOFF CONTENTION (FOR A SEVENTH CONSECUTIVE SEASON) IN GAME 77 OF 2011-12: A 3-0 LOSS AT AIR CANADA CENTRE TO ERIC STAAL AND THE CAROLINA HURRICANES (ABOVE AND BELOW).

BUFFALO (APR. 3) – SABRES COACH LINDY RUFF ADDRESSES REPORTERS (ABOVE) AT FIRST NIAGARA CENTER BEFORE LEAFS PARTAKE IN MORNING SKATE (BELOW).

BUFFALO (APR. 3) – MAPLE LEAFS LED THIS GAME, 5-3, WITH 5:03 REMAINING IN REGULATION BUT SOMEHOW MANAGED TO LOSE, 6-5, ON DEREK ROY’S POWERPLAY GOAL (BELOW) AT 3:29 OF OVERTIME. ANOTHER SIGNATURE MOMENT OF THE COLLAPSE.

TORONTO (APR. 5) – DESPITE A LEAGUE-LEADING 59th GOAL BY STEVEN STAMKOS (ABOVE) MIDWAY THROUGH THE THIRD PERIOD, LEAFS WON THEIR HOME FINALE OF 2011-12 ON AN OVERTIME GOAL BY CAPTAIN DION PHANEUF (BELOW). IT WOULD BE LUKE SCHENN’S FINAL APPEARANCE AS A LEAF AT AIR CANADA CENTRE – HE POSED (BOTTOM-RIGHT) AFTERWARD WITH STAMKOS OUTSIDE VISITORS’ DRESSING ROOM.

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