The Leafs don't really have to do much to make the playoffs this season. Really, all they have to do is be better than both the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals for the next 11 games. OK, they might also have to be better than the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers, but it's possible they can squeak into the playoffs and be worse than them, too. There are two thoughts that come to mind at this juncture:
1) Happy Gilmore: "Just tap it in, Leafs. Just taaaap it in."
2) Game 7. THAT game 7. While technically not a movie, it's definitely a tragedy. I think we all hope that this season doesn't turn out to be a longer, slower choke than 4-1.
The Leafs' game last night against the Tampa Bay Lightning was an important one in terms of the standings since both teams are vying for the same divisional spots. Unfortunately, although the Leafs wound up out-shooting their opponents (for the first time in consecutive games this season) their added jump didn't cover the mental errors they made defensively.
The first period started rather miserably for the Leafs, as they quickly went down 1-0 on a harmless-looking shot from the point that James Reimer just couldn't track through bodies in the slot. It wasn't the worst goal ever (given the screens) but it certainly wasn't great either, and I think we all wanted Reimer to redeem himself after his 'just OK' performance.
The Leafs countered quickly, with Phil Kessel snapping home a nice feed from his ol' pal Tyler Bozak, and it seemed that the Leafs had regained their composure. Nikolai Kulemin then scored just a few minutes later on a deceptively tricky tip-in off a Tim Gleason slap pass. It looked like the Leafs were prepared to make a statement.
At the very end of the first period, a very scary incident occurred, where Tampa forward Alex Killorn shoved Paul Ranger heavily into the boards. Ranger obviously turned at the last minute, but Killorn is riding him into the boards before that even happens. In other words, there was still time for him to react. Ranger laid nearly motionless on the ice for several minutes before being placed on a stretcher and taken to the hospital. The latest word from the Leafs is that he will be OK, as he was responsive and alert by the time he got to the hospital.
What a scary incident. Ranger looks conscious, but you wonder if he really knows where he is. pic.twitter.com/TfjOmMtSVW— J.P. Nikota (@JPNikota) March 19, 2014
Unfortunately, the Leafs were unable to use Ranger's plight as a rallying point, and Stamkos replied with three consecutive goals for a natural hat trick. None of them could be blamed on poor Reimer, whose night went from bad, to briefly OK, to really bad. At least, it was bad inasmuch as you know he wanted to win this one a lot. Leaving (or should I say 'Leafing'?) Stamkos open for one-timers in the slot is a pretty efficient way of allowing three goals, no matter who is in net.
So let's skip the second period.
Right from the outset of the third period, the Leafs looked like a different team. They heavily out-shot the Lightning (22 to 8 on the period) and dominated possession, but although Jake Gardiner scored a very nice goal to bring the Leafs to within one, the Leafs penalty kill stalled again shortly thereafter, restoring the Lightning's 2-goal cushion. Again, no hope for Reimer.
Worth noting is that the Leafs received two unfortunate calls in the third. The first was a missed interference call that lead directly to Tampa's last goal. It can be argued that it was Mason Raymond's man who scored, and that although Gleason was knocked down, Raymond should have covered, but that's another debate. 15:27 into the third, James van Riemsdyk was also assessed a questionable minor for hooking which helped subdue the Leafs' momentum.
As usual though, the refs weren't really to blame for the score in the end. If you're going to gift wrap three 1T's to Stamkos in the slot, odds are you're not going to win the game anyway. Sometimes you get the breaks and sometimes you don't.
A few notes on individual players:
- Nazem Kadri and his linemates had a bit of a tough night. They put a couple pucks on net but didn't look dangerous.
- Speaking of Kadri's linemates, David Clarkson had the most Clarksonian game ever. He didn't contribute on the scoreboard, he took not one, but two dumb penalties, and he fought a guy who makes a fraction of his salary but equals his production. Clarkson just HAD to fight B.J. Combeen for reasons that unclear to just about everyone, and was basically invisible apart from that.
- Kessel's line got back to their scoring ways last night, which is great news. The media coverage about his 5-game "slump" was already getting to be insufferable.
- James Reimer's night only got worse when this report surfaced saying he is going to ask for a trade in the off-season. You know the media is going to have a field day with this.
- Rielly and Gardiner are looking more dangerous than ever, but there are still some kinks to work out of their respective defensive games.
- The Leafs' PK was atrocious. Passes go through that box like poop through a goose.
- Some (probably drunk) fan jumped onto the ice during a stoppage in play
Here are some tweets about the game for your consideration:
"You are David Clarkson." Sincerely, Mr. Bergstrom— Brian (@bkblades) March 20, 2014
I'm seeing a lot of "No Bernier = No Playoffs" Let me correct you: No defence, no playoffs— Sachin Sahota (@__sachinsahota) March 20, 2014
Clarke MacArthur has 20 goals right now. He's also earning $2M less than Clarkson.— J.P. Nikota (@JPNikota) March 20, 2014
David Clarkson only has 4 more goals than the guy who jumped on the ice at the ACC tonight.— Marc Dumont (@Dr_Habs) March 20, 2014
Clarkson and Crombeen both have 10 points on the season in almost same GP so far. One of them earns 5.25M the other 1.15M.— J.P. Nikota (@JPNikota) March 20, 2014
Peter Holland had 4 shots in 9:37 last night. Holland played 2 minutes in both the 2nd and 3rd periods. That's how you use a full bench.— Hope_Smoke (@Hope_Smoke) March 20, 2014