A Bubble Burst?
No, the Philadelphia Flyers didn't do the Maple Leafs any favours last night.
Or did they?
The Flyers couldn't hold leads of 2-0, 3-1 and 4-2 last night at home against the Montreal Canadiens. Philly ultimately won the shootout on Petr Nedved's pretty backhand move, but the Habs escaped with a valuable point they shouldn't have been able to aquire.
That gives them an eight-point edge over the Leafs going into tonight's tussle at the Air Canada Centre. Instead of being able to shave that margin to a more threatening five points with a win, the Leafs will have to live with being six points back if they can put together their first win of the post-Olympic schedule.
If the Flyers did help out in the Leafs' desperate attempt to make the playoffs, it was by giving Habs starting goalie Cristobal Huet a rough ride. At least two of the goals were very iffy, and in the shootout, Huet looked a bit worn out in surrendering consecutive backhand goals to Peter Forsberg and Nedved in the shootout.
If Huet was an exhausted fellow boarding the late night flight from Philly to Toronto, it wouldn't be a big surprise. He has started 11 straight games for the Habs and 15 of the last 16. Since the NHL resumed after Turin, last night was his fourth game in six nights.
It was also the first time in those 15 starts that Huet had given up more than three goals in a game.
Now, maybe this guy's the real deal. Maybe he's the goalie who's going to carry the Habs deep into the playoffs.
But he's a 30-year-old journeyman with a losing career record who has suddenly been given a huge workload. Had Jose Theodore not fallen and gone boom! over the Olympic break, its possible Montreal GM/coach Bob Gainey would still be wrestling over his goalie conundrum.
Don't forget, Gainey was so unconvinced of Huet's abilities that when he took over from Claude Julien behind the bench, his first decision was to install Theodore as the starter after Julien had been having success with Huet in goal.
It could be that Theodore's freak home injury turns out to be an improbable, unanticipated break for the Habs in the same way a U2 concert that forced the Alouettes out of Olympic Stadium pushed them into the arms of McGill Stadium and a startling new sense of popularity and commercial success in the city.
But it could also be that Huet is a short term surprise, and that last night was the night his bubble burst.
Ed Belfour couldn't out-play Ottawa's Ray Emery Saturday night. If he can't raise his game to be decisively better than Huet tonight - or Yann Danis if he gets the call for his seventh NHL start - then the last drop of belief will almost certainly be drained out of the Leaf dressing room.