Game 61: Speeding toward the light
I don't know where to begin. I am at a loss for words.
It's not just tonight's heart-pounding triumph in Montreal. It's not just the shrinking four-point gap that now separates this surging Leafs team from the word we dare not speak but can't stop thinking about. It's not even the climb back to .500 or the clutch performances we witnessed from so many in so many situations in a game they all refused to lose.
No, what's giving me pause – and it's an electrifying pause, to be sure – is a seismic perception that rumbled along the boards and floated above the neutral zone, that spilled along the bench and catapulted from the corners, that coated the defensive zone and powered the attack, wave after wave, line after line.
They believe in themselves. It's not just us anymore. They, too, believe.
And so on the night of February 24, inside a supercharged Bell Centre, this belief in what seemed improbable only yesterday, this faith in what lies ahead, ignited like a powder keg, flames licking at the black sky.
Make no mistake: The fire was everywhere.
It crackled in the first, as AC/DC’s "T.N.T." thundered to life and Mike Komisarek scrummed with Tomas Plekanec. It roared inside Ron Wilson's belly as his catatonic demeanor melted and he hollered at the officials with newfound urgency.
It raged inside Phil Kessel's narrow eyes as he battled for the puck like he's never battled before, working the boards, setting up behind the net, using his howitzer of a shot to score twice while assisting on two more.
You could even see the fire in Brett Lebda's outstretched arms as he pumped his fists after scoring his first goal since the discovery of insulin.
You could see it on Tyler Bozak's face when he converted those two Gretzky-like passes from Kessel or when he lined up for draws or when he made a lunging shorthanded play in the third that robbed the Canadiens of a sure goal.
And you could see the fire spread late in the game when the foot soldiers – Colby Armstrong, Fredrik Sjostrom, Joey Crabb – ragged the puck deep in the offensive zone with such red-hot tenacity, the Canadiens never had a chance to pull Carey Price for an extra attacker.
The magnificent bastards didn't just squeak out a 5-4 win, as a glance at the box score might wrongly suggest. They waged war for every inch of ice. They scored three goals on their first nine shots, chasing starter Alex Auld. They wove pretty offensive plays and defensive gems into a tapestry of relentless work, which was then wrapped tightly around Montreal's neck like a ligature.
Unlike earlier this season, when an opposition blitz caused them to collapse like a garden umbrella under a falling anvil, the Leafs never lost their focus or their composure or their belief in themselves.
Not when Montreal scored first. Not when Montreal scored two goals in 20 seconds early in the second. And not when Montreal sliced the score to 5-4 with 2:37 left in the third.
You know, as I sit here alone in my office as 2 a.m. approaches, I suddenly understand this feeling of speechlessness. I get it, which is to say, they get it. The race is on, there can be no doubt.
But how the season now ends is the least of it. The important thing is they believe.
A toddler's laugh, a first kiss, warm sand on a beach at night – some things in life should not be scrutinized with the mind. Some things in life should just be enjoyed with the heart. Some things should be experienced rather than analyzed, accepted in all ephemeral beauty rather than questioned.
This game was one of those things. The darkness is fading because we are speeding toward the light.
There is nothing more to say.