As the final buzzer sounded on the Toronto Maple Leafs’ 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres on March 19th, I was having a good conversation about the Leafs’ playoff chances with my father. He mentioned that the Leafs appear to be playing with pride, which inspired me to write about the proud Maple Leafs.
No, this is not going to be all about how my dad inspired me to write an article.
While this may not seem like the best time to write about the Leafs’ pride, since they just lost to the Tampa Bay Lightning 6-2, I figured I would anyways based on how well they have been playing post All-Star break.
Over their last ten games, the Maple Leafs have gone 4-3-3, including wins over the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and even the Buffalo Sabres, who are also looking to nail down one of the final two playoff spots in the East.
Great contributions from Phil Kessel, Dion Phaneuf, James Reimer, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski and others have been key to the Leafs’ playoff push. Everyone, including fourth liners and career minor leaguers have chipped in, whether it is by showing great hustle, hard work, putting up great offensive numbers or anything else.
Kessel, who scored ten points over a five game span from February 23rd to March 2nd, and Phaneuf, who has eight points in his last ten games and now five goals on the season, have both been on offensive tears lately. Phaneuf, the team captain, has also escaped from most, if not all of the criticism that was being placed on him for most of the season.
Everyone knows how well rookie James Reimer has been playing. The man so many Leafs fans call “Optimus Reim” has been putting up outstanding numbers that any goalie in the league would love to have; even ones who have been in the league for 10+ seasons. In 26 games, Reimer has gone 13-7-4 with a goals against average of 2.68 and a save percentage of .918.
Kulemin and Grabovski, who both began the season with huge expectations being placed on themselves, have scored 26 and 27 goals respectively. Both have recognized their talents and used them to the best of their ability. For Grabovski, it’s his hands and speed, while Kulemin’s underrated shot, size and strength have helped him tremendously this season.
Those five and everyone else appear to be extremely excited about this young Toronto team that is pumping some life into a city that─aside from the Toronto Rock lacrosse team of the NLL─hasn’t seen much success in sports for more than a few years now. That excitement even stretches as far as the normally over-the-top serious coaching staff.
“I wish all our players wore visors. I’m glad he’s going to put one on, but now I have to question his toughness,” said Leafs coach Ron Wilson, speaking about Tim Brent, who couldn’t see for about ten minutes after receiving a high stick to the eyeball on Saturday night.
In case you didn’t catch on, Ron Wilson cracked a joke.
Getting back to Saturday’s game, there is one thing a lot of people may not realize; the Leafs overcame a lot. Going into the third period, down 3-2, knowing that they had lost three straight games and without one of, if not the best penalty killer and energy player on the team in Tim Brent, the Leafs managed to score twice and win the game 4-3.
That’s not to say that the Leafs will be able to overcome the severe odds stacked against them─having to go 10-2-0 to reach 90 points─but it does show that they are not going to go down without a fight, and that’s a great sign for one of the youngest teams in the entire National Hockey League.
Individual success, excitement and perseverance has all led to team success during the latter half of the 2010-2011 season for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and all of that can be linked back to pride.
Just as my dad finished making his point about pride, every Leafs player skated to centre ice to salute the great Toronto fans at the Air Canada Centre.
Follow me on Twitter @LukasHardonk for more Maple Leafs coverage, including news, rumours, updates and opinion.