Game 58: Pure and utter joy
When the final buzzer sounded, I strolled into the office and removed my Leafs schedule from the wall. Then I picked up a pen, crossed-out the month of November and wrote: "Ah, forget about it you guys. All is forgiven."
So this is what pure and utter joy feels like.
From Boston to Buffalo, 48 hours of pure and utter joy. Back-to-back bliss. Two divisional wins and four symbolic points in which old ghosts were doused with kerosene and set ablaze, hard work was gilded with golden rewards, new chemical formulas were discovered and confidence was renewed.
Make no mistake: The rollercoaster is now thundering down the tracks at thrilling speed, blowing our hair and rattling our teeth as we grin like we've never grinned before this season.
This team is rolling. They are 6-3-1 over the last 10 games. They have inched to within six points of the word we dare not speak. The interlocking pieces are starting to snap together.
I deliberately did not write last night because of this pure and utter joy. But after returning this morning from a long walk in the predawn darkness, perspective remains elusive; it's impossible to stay grounded when you're on cloud nine.
Wow, just wow.
When Timmy Brent kicked the puck past the blueline and Joey Crabb – his name alone is the epitome of magnificent bastardry! – bolted down the ice on a shorthanded rush, somehow fighting off two Sabres while flying through the air and swatting the puck past a hapless Ryan Miller, I jumped out of my seat and screamed.
That goal was the eventual game winner. But what it really felt like was a game changer for all of us. It felt like another small step in the right direction, another lunge away from the bubbling quicksand.
The goal ended a horrible streak of cross-border misfortune – this was the Leafs first win in Buffalo since December 12, 2008 – while also hinting at what lies ahead for a young team that seems to have stumbled upon a secret recipe after burning dozens of pots and pans.
Then when James Reimer preserved the 2-1 victory by slamming the door in the final minutes – controlling rebounds, suffocating plays, calmly directing his defencemen – I gave him a one-man standing ovation.
Pure and utter joy.
As a sidenote, I will also say this to the entire organization: Please hire a detail of armed guards, psychics, bouncers, personal assistants and medical specialists to flank Reimer. Now that J.S. Giguere looks to be injured again and Goose is dealing with heart issues, Reimer needs round-the-clock protection.
I am not joking. This kid is not to walk across wet floors. He is not to cut his own damn vegetables. I don't want him using revolving doors or crossing busy streets or even tying his own shoes. James Reimer needs to be kept under lock and key in a climate-controlled room inside a heavily-barricaded fortress that is blessed by witch-doctors and watched by radar.
Sorry. But that needed to be said.
You know, what's most amazing about the last two games is the work ethic. These guys are fighting for the puck the way lions and hyenas fight over a mangled carcass. They are focused and energized. On the bench, everybody is leaning forward, everybody is itching to jump over the boards and engage.
It seems a couple of relatively small trades can make a huge difference.
Joffrey Lupul brings an intensity that was often lacking this season. He goes to the net and mixes it up in the corners and takes hits to make plays. And you know what? All of this must be contagious because now linemate Phil Kessel is doing it and playing his best hockey in months.
Then you throw in the chemical reaction created by adding Christian Hanson and Keith Aulie, a newfound commitment in the defensive zone, line stability (thank you, Mr. Wilson), shorter and smarter shifts, fewer giveaways, escalating shot totals period-over-period, puck possession that's sometimes lasting two, three, four sustained minutes...
... and now you add this: Brian Burke is not done yet.
People, I don't know. I'm having trouble thinking this morning. Maybe it's all this smiling I can't stop doing. Maybe I need to go for another walk.
Here's the thing: It really does feel like something incredible has happened over the past 48 hours. And now as we look ahead, the pure and utter joy is impossible to ignore.
MAIN PHOTO: DOUG BENZ/REUTERS