If hope was put on life support Monday night, someone forgot to notify the magnificent bastards. Because based on tonight's spirited victory in Carolina, they have no interest in a burial just yet.
I shall be brief because, a) I'm suddenly running a fever and, b) I'm still sitting here mumbling to the cats: "Dion Phaneuf had a three-point game? He scored two power play goals? What?"
With 15 points since the All-Star break, the Captain is finally hitting his old Calgary stride. His physical game returned a few weeks ago. But since then, he's also carrying the puck with renewed confidence. He's jumping into the play and springing forwards with crazy-long passes.
Tonight, he continued to do all of this, while also managing to modify his howitzer of a shot. Instead of trying to break the sound barrier and, in the process, striking mortal fear into players on both sides, Phaneuf has suddenly embraced the principles of shooting accuracy and velocity control.
The weird thing is Carolina outshot Toronto 37-19. For much of the first period, and most of the third, play skittered around in the Leaf end. But if you slow down the game tape, shift by shift, frame by frame, what you'll find is an inverse correlation between territorial play and determination.
Even when Carolina had the puck, the Leafs wanted it more.
You know those wind-up toys that walk across the floor? You know how the first few steps – when the winding mechanism is tightest – produce abnormally fast movement?
That's what the Leafs looked like: Wound up real tight, legs churning at dizzying speed. The movement wasn't always pretty but it was hard to ignore. If you squinted through this game, you would have seen a blur of white jerseys constantly zigging and zagging across every inch of ice.
They blazed into the corners like heat-seeking missiles. They even went to the net: On Phaneuf's first PP goal, both Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin were parked in front of Cam Ward. After Phaneuf's second PP goal, Phil Kessel peeled himself off the blue ice in the crease. On the third goal – which came 12 seconds later – Tyler Bozak drove toward the left post, which allowed him to tip a beautiful pass from Darryl Boyce.
As the hometown announcer noted: "Out of nowhere, out in front!"
He was spectacular. I don't know if it’s because he shaved recently or because of the recent criticism, but the kid looked to be in a zone. Diving from side to side. Shooting out his flailing limbs. Smothering rebounds. Staying square to the play.
It was as if Reimer was making a simple and stark statement: "I'm fine. Here, watch."
That was a very enjoyable and inspiring three hours. The Leafs, to a man, did not go gently. They are putting up an admirable fight against ridiculous odds. And the next round takes place in less than 24 hours when they venture into Florida.
Unlike the Leafs, I am fading fast. We can make better sense of this rousing victory in the morning. Goodnight.
PHOTO: ELLEN OZIER/REUTERS