Ok, so let's recap the year thus far before the Leafs play their final game prior to the all-star break. I, along with a big chunk of fans, am excited by the summer additions and predict that a team that has missed the playoffs by 2 points one year and 1 point the next will make the jump to a solid playoff position. The team proceeds to play mediocre hockey full of holes. They then go on an 8 game run that sees them go 6-1-1 and they trick the teetering fans into thinking that that version of the team is the real one. Vesa Toskala proceeds to get injured and the wheels spectacularly fly off the bandwagon to the point that even I gave up and accepted the harsh reality that the sum of this team is not equal to its parts.
In their version of a hilarious joke, not only does JFJ finally get fired (hooray!) but they have now gone 4-2, and could easily be 6-0, since I penned that Benedictine screed. They won't suck me back in but a little smile crossed my face when Mats slotted home an enormous and suspicious rebound, check Olie the Goalie's bank accounts, into a gaping net with 29 seconds left in a 2-2 game. That goal also tied him with Maurice Richard on the all-time goal scoring list although Richard did it in an era when scoring was much easier. Note to Habs fans: Kidding!
This game played out exactly as I fear more than a few will now that Toskala has made a full recovery. As much as opposition fans want to argue otherwise, Toskala is a bona fide number one goalie and he can steal games for the Leafs and tonight was one of them. The Leafs did not play that well but they were in it at the end because VeTo came up with big saves when they were needed.
There was some controversy as Ponikarovsky left the game with a shoulder injury in the first after he was hit from behind by Steve Eminger. Bill McCreary didn't have the guts to give him a deserved major. Aside from seeing Mike Green for the first time (good wheels) the player that jumped out at me was John Erskine. He laid huge hits on Tucker, Tlusty, and Devereaux.
I thought that the Leafs had done enough to lose the game. The first goal came after a few long spells during which the Leafs stood around and watched the Capitals cycle around the zone with the puck. Eventually Ovechkin got open, wake up Antro and Kaberle, and fired a shot home. In the third the Leafs were horribly outshot and the game was evened up when Gil failed to clear the zone after Blake won a face-off and Stajan and Tlusty ran into each other which allowed Alex Semin to walk in alone on Toskala.
Alas, it was not to be and the Leafs move to within 5 points (with 2 more games played) of 8th in the conference. God help us.