There were a lot of reasons the Leafs weren’t going to make the playoffs this year.
Some might cite their no-show against Tampa or pissed-away points against the likes of the New York Islanders. But the primary reason this Leafs are on the outside looking in is that ugly losing skid back in November (well, that, and sub .900 goaltending they had for much of the season).
The late arrival of goalie James Reimer gave the Leafs and, more importantly, Leaf fans a measure of hope not seen since the first few weeks of the season. Factor in a few Leafs regressing to their norms – Phil Kessel started to find the net, Dion Phaneuf too, even Colby Armstrong got in on the act – and the calls to fire Ron Wilson grow quieter. It's amazing how the return of primary and secondary scoring coupled with competent goaltending will do wonders for a team (and its fan base).
And while I had hope for this club and seriously enjoyed the run, numbers and logic were always lurking in the background (as much as I find the underlying stats illuminating, these particular stats always seemed dark and ominous. The type that would be accompanied by a soundtrack heavy on the timpani, set in a minor key).
Having to compete with four or five other teams for that final playoff spot meant a lot of bubble teams playing each other and picking up points - the prevalence of three point games made it tougher still.
Yes, the Leafs were likely done in November, yet I’m still not ready to start counting down their tragic number.
For me, the best part about the Leafs recent streak wasn’t dreaming about the playoffs or thinking of various droughts coming to an end, it was the simple fact of being able to enjoy watching the team play.
For far too long, the Leafs simply couldn’t compete and often looked beaten early. There were many nights when the only thing to cheer for was a lone goal to break the other team’s shut-out or hoping that the score would at least remain respectable.
But for the last few weeks it was great to have close games and, on most nights, a team worth cheering for.
The last time I bought a Maple Leafs Jersey John Brophy was behind the bench. I've never even gotten it lettered. Now I find myself looking at sites like SportsMemorabilia.com contemplating buying a new sweater (maybe Kulemin or more likely a Yushkevich throwback).
Yes, there were a lot of reasons the Leafs weren’t going to make the playoffs this year but for the first time in a long time, there are a lot of reasons to be optimistic.