You know the feeling you get in a relationship after a nasty fight? The anger has subsided. Apologies are extended. Both parties are quiet, subdued, walking around on tenterhooks in the remorseful aftermath?
That's what tonight's game felt like.
The Toronto Maple Leafs – I now feel the need to be more formal with this team – beat Anaheim 5-2. They outshot the Ducks 37-28. J.S. Giguere was solid against his former Cup-winning team. Mikhail Grabovski banged in another two goals, becoming the first Leaf to reach the 20-goal plateau and leaping into a tie for eighth spot in the entire league.
Good, good, good, good… and yet on tenterhooks we walk.
To be honest, I found it hard to concentrate tonight. After what happened Wednesday, this was a surreal game to process, like it was unraveling in slow motion, in a parallel universe, where moments worth celebrating still carry the unspoken threat of blunt-force trauma to the soul.
The usual yelping and post-goal fist pumping into the air was instinctively replaced with a tentative half-smile, as if my brain was saying to my heart: "I remember the nasty fight last night in New York. Don't you forget."
That's the real tragedy of this topsy-turvy season. Due to the vertiginous ups and downs, but mostly the downs, we are now guarded, on edge, weary, vaguely nauseous. The nasty fights have created a toxic environment in which the bad memories make it harder and harder to appreciate the good acts.
Objectively, there was plenty to admire about the game played by these Toronto Maple Leafs. The hitting, the passing, the grittiness, the playmaking. Dion Phaneuf was strong defensively and punishing physically. Tyler Bozak played one of his best games in recent memory. Clarke MacArthur – God bless that spark plug for starting the engine so many times this season – was a force to be reckoned with, picking up a goal and two assists.
Good, good, good, good... and yet on tenterhooks we walk.
Our own Dr. Waffles was at the ACC. This was his view.
What happens next? Who the hell knows. The only predictable thing about this team is its jarring unpredictability. The only map we have in our pockets is a tattered note that says, "There is no map. Sorry. You're on your own."
So on we march into the great unknown, into the valley of ups and downs. Our expectations are now set to muted. Our chins are up, barely. But for once, it's just nice to go to sleep and not be mad.
BOTTOM PHOTO: VINCE TALOTTA/TORONTO STAR