Hey, it was a great while it lasted.
Yesterday evening, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ late-season bid for playoff glory officially ended with a 3-2 loss to the Washington Capitals on home ice. The defeat didn’t actually clinch the Leafs’ fate—the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres’ 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning did that—but in the end it doesn’t really matter. The effect is the same: the Leafs will miss the post-season for the seventh consecutive year. The storyline is nothing new for the poor, deprived souls that comprise the ever-faithful Leafs Nation. Time and again, the team has flirted with the post-season only to come up short when it counted—but this time it feels different. Really.
What we’ve seen from the boys in blue over the past few weeks has given us reason to believe that they weren’t just mounting a bid for the playoffs in the here and now—this time, they were laying the foundation for post-season pushes in years to come. From the spectacular play of rookie goaltender James Reimer to the re-emergence of stars Phil Kessel and Dion Phaneuf to the upstart crew of young players that carried the club to a blistering 18-7-5 mark down the stretch, the Leafs looked like a hockey team that was finally coming together and building toward a brighter future.
Of all the ink spilled about the Leafs’ demise in today’s sports pages, the National Post’s Bruce Arthur may just have said it best:
[W]hat this Toronto Maple Leafs team has done is show more resilience, less quit, and more promise than anything the team has fielded since the Stanley Cup got mothballed. Leafs fans have suffered a long time, whether blindly or not. At the very least this season, for the first time in a long time, they were given something worth caring about.
The modicum of success the Leafs achieved this season—and, more to the point, the hope they created—provides a certain degree of vindication for Leafs general manager Brian Burke and the rest of the brass at Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment. But it also leaves the management with no more room for excuses or post-facto rationalizations. Next year, there will be but one measure for success: winning.
• Cox: Fun ride, but Leaf honeymoon’s over [Toronto Star]
• Leafs lose to Capitals in shootout, playoff drive officially dead [Toronto Star]
• Leafs eliminated from playoffs [Toronto Sun]
• 10 concerns the Leafs face going forward [Toronto Sun]
• Leafs officially eliminated [Globe and Mail]
• Leafs fans may finally have reason to hope [National Post]
• Toronto falls to Capitals as playoff drive ends [CBC.ca]