It's amazing what a thrilling, come-from-behind victory can do for the psyche.
I woke up yesterday feeling like someone had removed a brick vest from my torso. I couldn't stop smiling. I loved everything and everybody. The universe was an awesome place.
My wife at 6:45 a.m.: "Don't forget to take out the recycling."
Me: "Sure thing, honey! No problem! Love you!"
An editor at 10:35 a.m.: "We're looking at early deadlines for your Living column until Christmas."
Me: "Great! Sounds like fun! I love early deadlines!"
Friend at 1:42 p.m.: "Hey, can I borrow your minivan this weekend? I need to move a dresser."
Me: "Borrow it? You can have it! I would love to never drive that minivan again!"
It took more than 24 hours to finally tumble down from my zombie high. But now that the whole four-power-play-goals-in-one-frigging-period is starting to fade, let's get back to business.
The Devils, off to a hellish 5-11-2 start, lug their dull pitchforks and fiery contracts into the ACC this evening. Jersey, once a defensive juggernaut, has given up 59 goals in 18 games.
More troubling, they aren't scoring.
Just like the Leafs and San Jose, Jersey has been shut out three times already. They are the only team to average fewer than 2 goals per game (1.83). And they have a -26 goal differential, second worst in the league. (Take a bow of shame, Edmonton.)
Put it this way: The Leafs, also red light challenged for much of the year, have played one less game and scored seven more goals than Jersey.
What does this all mean? Who knows.
On paper, though, the Leafs should be able to build on the momentum generated Tuesday night. As Moe Green noted in the comments yesterday, wouldn't it be great to venture into Montreal this weekend on a mini-high? But over the years, how many times has a beleaguered team sauntered into the ACC and stolen two points?
What we do know is this: Jonas Gustavsson will get the start after J.S. Giguere left the Nashville game with a minor injury. Jiggy, the elder statesman in net and vocal leader in the room, will be resting his troubled groin for 1-2 weeks.
And so with James Reimer getting the call as back-up, it's now The Monster's Goose's turn in the spotlight (see comment/suggestion below from Moe Green re: new nickname). This is the Big Chance he's no doubt been dreaming about while perched on the bench for two-thirds of the still young season.
Gustavsson made three heroic saves on Tuesday night in the 13:09 minutes he played. He looked as sharp as he's been during his five starts this season (1-3-1). Personally, I believe he will emerge as a force over the next two weeks and possibly even change the workload balance for the entire season.
That said, the Leafs may need to tweak certain aspects of their game when playing in front of him. So yesterday, in between high-fiving the mailman and regaling my cats with stories about the '93 playoffs, I spent a few hours studying Monster Goose game tape.
Here now, four humble suggestions for his teammates in advance of tonight's game:
1. COVERAGE: CLOG THE CIRCLES
By my count, 53 per cent of the goals scored against Monster Goose this year have come from cross-ice passes. He's a great goalie when he's square to the play. He's almost unbeatable on first-wave shots during a rush. But when he's forced to make quick, lateral movements, he often gives up the short side or top corners. So tonight, man-to-man coverage inside the circles will be critical.
2. TRANSITION: LIMIT HIS PUCK HANDLING
On at least seven occasions, the Leafs have slipped into serious trouble after Monster Goose touched the puck behind his net or on the right side. Usually, this has only resulted in sustained pressure by the opposition. But one time, a Monster Goose clearing attempt led directly to a goal by Florida's Bryan Allen. So the D needs to communicate even more than usual tonight. The wingers need to pick up their men on the backcheck. And Gustavsson needs to minimize his direct involvement in breakout plays.
3. TIMING: BEWARE 'THE THREE MINUTE WINDOW'
In four of his five games, Monster Goose has surrendered a goal within three minutes of the start or end of a period. In two games, the opposition scored with less than 50 seconds left in a period. Why this may be happening, I have no idea. But if the Leafs are to win tonight, they must be hyper-vigilant during the game's sleepy and frantic bookends.
4. DISCIPLINE: STAY OUT OF THE BOX
Here's something else to consider: 40 per cent of the goals scored against Monster Goose this season have come when the Leafs were shorthanded. Jersey, despite its ongoing problems, still has players that can burn you with the extra man. And if there's such a thing as karmic balance and retribution, the Leafs may find themselves on the receiving end of more calls tonight after their PP bonanza against Nashville. In short: No stupid penalties, please.
PHOTO: CJ GUNTHER/REUTERS