Those three words will give the majority of hockey fans the kind of thrill that they cannot find in their own fandom. After 80 games, the playoff dream is official over. It became official once Thomas Vanek potted an empty net goal to complete their 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning but the Leafs and Capitals continued to play their game nonetheless until Washington emerged victorious in the shootout. It was a moment that was a long time coming for the Maple Leafs. They had put it off as much as possible even as veterans like Francois Beauchemin and Tomas Kaberle moved on and human chemistry Colby Armstrong was lost for the year to injuries. The single biggest reason? A groin injury to Jean-Sebastien Giguere that opened the door for James Reimer:
|2010 - James Reimer||34||1915||20||8||81||2.54||1038||957||.922||3|
On a night when the Leafs were grossly outshot he was once again the hero. Whether he is the white knight that we've yearned for or simply the player that allowed Leafs fans to recognize all of the good that exists on the team. In particular, there was one save that drew a standing ovation from the crowd and a bit of understanding from Bruce Arthur:
That was the Leafs this season, in a nutshell. Down and out, then reaching, reaching, reaching. No, they didn’t grasp the ledge, but moments like that mean something. Players like Reimer mean something. It wasn’t enough this season, no, and there’s no guarantee it will mean enough next season, either.
It's not a passionate defence of Leafs fans but it's miles ahead of most of his colleagues. Ultimately, there are no guarantees for next year. Mikhail Grabovski could regress (not likely), Clarke MacArthur could return to his pre-Leafs form (please no), and James Reimer may be more Jim Carey than Felix Potvin. But for the past three months they've given us more than just hope but hope that even the media and opposition fans have to acknowledge. And that's something.