An Ugly Way to Go
A whimper. Period.
That's what the Maple Leafs went down with Thursday night in Sunrise, Fla., an inexplicably emotionless and weak effort against a Panthers team that threw in the towel on the season at the trade deadline when GM Dale Tallon traded away as many bodies as possible as he continues his rebuilding effort in south Florida.
The Leafs put themselves into the playoff conversation with mostly strong hockey over the past month or so. But when confronted with a game in which they were actually the favourite, they performed as though they expected the home team to just roll over and play dead, dropping a 4-0 decision.
Not a chance. Ryan Carter, on his own, did more hitting than the Leafs did as a team, there was no sense of urgency whatsover on the Toronto side and it was startling to watch what had been a hustling Leaf squad completely unable to match Florida's energy level.
The Leafs just couldn't generate much on the attack all night against a Panthers squad populated with all kinds of hungry youngsters eager to prove they deserve to be NHLers. On top of that was layered J.S. Giguere's mediocre goaltending effort, and the decision to not even dress James Reimer as the backup will go down as one of the weirdest of Ron Wilson's coaching career in Toronto.
Down 2-0 in the second with Giguere not looking very good at all, Reimer could have theoretically entered the game. After all, Ron Wilson had ridiculed members of the media the night before for even suggesting Reimer was tired. So why wasn't he dressed? Actually, given Wilson's sarcasm, why wasn't he in the game? There was little or no chance that Jonas Gustavsson, having not appeared in an NHL game since Jan. 19, was going to go in and relieve Giguere on Thursday night.
You couldn't argue Reimer would have made a difference, not with the Leafs unable to get a single puck past Scott Clemmensen. Then again, the Leafs are a very different team with Reimer in the net, and at this time of year, in this situation, you'd think Wilson would be emptying the ammunition case, not holding key players back.
Unless there's a reason Reimer sat that hasn't been disclosed, it was just a weird decision by Wilson, one that couldn't have sent a positive message to his team.
With 10 games still to play, the Leafs are still mathematically alive. But they trail Buffalo by four points and the Sabres have two games in hand. They pretty much have to run the table now, a major task with a set of difficult road challenges next week.
Maybe the loss to the Panthers was the unofficial end. If it was, it was a lousy way to go.