Lost Decade For Maple Leafs

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Apr. 6) – I am certain the Chicago Blackhawks will tell you their Stanley Cup victory last spring was no less thrilling than in 2010. So, it may not be fair to point out the Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t truly made the playoffs in a decade.

Leafs did, of course, qualify a year ago and generated unexpected clamor against Boston in the opening round. But, it required only 48 games in the lockout-shortened schedule to crack the team-record drought of seven seasons. Barring a miracle akin to child-birth, Leafs will watch the Stanley Cup tournament this spring – thus remaining the lone club in the post-2005 lockout era to not make the playoffs in a full, 82-game NHL season. Hardly a badge of honor for the Blue and White.

TORONTO SUN IMAGES THIS MORNING ?? TELL THE WHOLE STORY.

        

I say “barring a miracle” not because the Columbus Blue Jackets are incapable of keeping Leafs in the playoff hunt over the final seven days. Any club foolish enough to take a bench penalty for too many men in the waning moments of a 3-3 tie can continue to lose. That’s what Blue Jackets did on Friday night at Nationwide Arena, allowing Peter Regin of Chicago to score the powerplay winner with three seconds left in regulation. There’s no reason to believe Columbus is a lock to defeat the visiting New York Islanders this evening (6 p.m. EST). Despite bringing up the rear in the Metropolitan Division with 73 points, the Islanders have won 18 road games – four more than the Leafs and two more than playoff-bound Minnesota in the Western Conference. [UPDATE: So much for that theory. Columbus hammered the Islanders, 4-0, to move three points ahead of the Leafs.]

In fact, the notion of Columbus struggling in all five of its remaining matches hardly boggles the mind. More of a stretch is the Maple Leafs – still just one point behind the Blue Jackets – taking any form of advantage in their final games: Tuesday at Tampa; Thursday at Sunrise FLA and Saturday in Ottawa. Not that Leafs don’t want to. They simply lack the defensive structure to carry them past any challenge – as witnessed again last night against a very average Winnipeg team.

So, indeed, it will be 10 years this spring that Leafs last qualified for the playoffs after a full schedule. The 2003-04 club – managed by John Ferguson Jr.; coached by Pat Quinn; led on the ice by Ed Belfour, Mats Sundin, Bryan McCabe, Joe Nieuwendyk and Gary Roberts – compiled a franchise record 103 points in the regular season; defeated Ottawa in a seven-game opening playoff round and lost to Philadelphia in the Conference semifinal on Jeremy Roenick’s overtime goal in Game 6 at Air Canada Centre.

That was May 4, 2004.

It only seems like a hundred years ago.

JEREMY ROENICK AND PHILADELPHIA FLYERS CELEBRATE OVERTIME GOAL ?? THAT ELIMINATED TORONTO FROM THE PLAYOFFS ON MAY 4, 2004 AT AIR CANADA CENTRE.

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