Last night we all found the answer to the riddIe, "Which is harder: the Leafs winning a hockey game or getting 10,000 comments to save lives?" The surprising answer is that they're both pretty goddamn tough. One half of the result came from the hard work of the Leafs' second line and the soft work of Pekka Rinne. The other half came from all of us who compose the beating hearts of Leafs Nation.
The Leafs, no doubt buoyed on the karmic goodwill of us all, came out in the first looking like the club that dominated the Flyers last week; hard working, pucks down low, smart sticks and all. In other words, a team that earned a shutout. When you play hard like that not only must you capitalize on the opening you've made (Ponikarovsky goal) you also start to sort of create your own luck (Niklas Hagman's goal, majorly), a little something the lack of has been hexing the Leafs seemingly all season.
After going up a pulse-quickening 3-0, the Leafs seemed to tremble a bit at the solid work of an off-the-bench Dan Ellis, which, this being a Leafs game, meant that Nashville sensed an opening and started to climb all the way back. The Preds began to press hard (see above adage), scored quickly and got back to within winning range. The Predators got their fans back in the game and there was a huge shift in the energy as 16,501 Tennesseans doffed their "The Oak Ridge Boys" trucker caps and made some noise, no doubt spilling some chaw juice down the front of their deep V-neck t-shirts.
This now was one of those games where the Leafs really had to gut check and decide what kind of team they were going to be. WAY too many times this season the Leafs have been faced with the kind of adversity you find in, oh I don't know, professional sports, and have had to look inside to see what they were made of. And WAY too many times, the voices of those gut checks sounded like this:
Matt Stajan: "When is Mats coming back?"
Jason Blake: " How dare they put ME on the 4th line!"
Francois Beauchemin: "Komisarek will deal with it."
Mike Komisarek: "Beauchemin will deal with it."
Lee Stempniak: "Jesus, give me a break, I'm only Lee Stempniak!"
Those are the sounds of a team that squanders a 3-0 lead and loses the game. But tonight, something happened. Maybe it was the southern night air. Maybe it was the promise of a little late-night mint julep run. Or maybe little by little the Leafs might just be getting it. In the latter part of the third, those voices had a different sound to them. A deeper, richer, more manly timbre to them. You know, like men have. They insisted on the gumption that their GM has been glowering about for over a year. They got back to work (again, see above adage), and started skating hard, getting pucks deep, and all that silly stuff that got them up 3-0 in the 1st (and 13 Stanley Cups). It's also the thing that snaps slumps, like Hagman's in the first, and brilliantly, necessarily, wrist-shottingly, Phil Kessel's for the win. With 5 and a bit to go, he does what he's supposed to do, simply shoot and score, win the game and make his team and all of us happy.
Speaking of happy, we should all be proud of how we Leafs fans (and some other's) rallied around Pension Plan Puppets last night and supported our team, our community, and most importantly, a noble life saving cause. Here's to us and here's to never having an 800-member GIF party crash our browsers ever again.