By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Mar. 26) – Though points are bogus and skewed in the overtime/shootout era, Maple Leafs will finally bust their seven-year playoff drought this spring after ending an interminable plague against Boston, garnering three of four points in head-to-head encounters. That alone proves how different this club truly is.
Potentially, there remains one factor standing between the Leafs and a playoff berth: complacency – a sense of entitlement and satisfaction from exorcising the Boston demon. Leaf clubs of recent ilk have gone down that path countless times, performing lamely against weak opposition after subduing a contender (such an example threatens to occur tonight at home to Florida – dead-last in the Eastern Conference). There is, however, no indication that Randy Carlyle’s 2013 outfit will fall into the same pattern. Though jittery fans of the Blue and White were certain their team was folding again last week during a 0-3-2 funk, it quickly arrested the slide. Today, Leafs are in good shape once again – six points up on ninth-place Carolina, though Hurricanes have three games in hand and one more against Toronto.
THOUGH THEY LOST IN A SHOOTOUT MONDAY, LEAFS PROVED THEY COULD PLAY WITH BOSTON IN CONSECUTIVE MATCHES – GARNERING THREE OF FOUR POINTS WHILE DISHING OUT SOME PUNISHMENT ALONG THE BOARDS: DION PHANEUF LEVELING BRAD MARCHAND (ABOVE) AT THE TD GARDEN. JARED WICKERHAM GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
For whatever it’s worth, Maple Leafs are two points ahead of their pace after 33 games of the 1995 lockout-shortened season. That club finished 21-19-8 for 50 points and fell to Chicago in a best-of-seven opening playoff round after winning the first two games at the United Center.
Many observers seem to think that 53 or 54 points will be required to make the playoffs this year. Of course, there was no-such blot as a three-point game in ’95; if overtime did not produce a winner, a tie was awarded – each team registering a single point. A club winning in overtime would get two points; its opponent nothing. The one-point guarantee after a regulation deadlock today has thrown everything out of whack and the shootout – given increasing backlash – appears to be running its course. Nothing more progressive could happen to our game than discarding the juvenile gimmick: its advent primarily a concession to fans after the lost season of 2004-05.
Playoff qualification this spring will undoubtedly – and justifiably – come with an asterisk, given that 34 games have been pared from the normal, 82-game slate. That will not matter, of course, to fans of the 16 teams that enter the Cup tournament – particularly here in Toronto, where almost nine years have gone by since the last playoff experience.
Also, the Stanley Cup won by New Jersey after the 48-game schedule of 1995 was hardly a mirage. Devils, as most are aware, made four subsequent appearances in the championship round, winning twice (2000 and 2003).
It says here the Leafs have done their part to finally qualify for the post-season – a push-back against Boston in the home-and-home engagement on Saturday and Monday providing more than enough evidence.
FACEBOOK: HOWARD BERGER [THORNHILL ON]