As the season draws mercifully to a close, the Leafs have gotten better and better at tanking. They've shut down injured players like Polak and Robidas for the season. They've refused to call up any of the top Marlies prospects to replace them, instead turning to the likes of Andrew MacWilliam and Petter Granberg. They've played the throw-in players they received in trades as if they were much better players. They haven't been hesitant to do things like scratch Kadri (which is a whole other thing, but which definitely does help the tank). And for the most part, it's been working. As of right now, the Leafs are fourth last in the league. They did get a point against the Islanders, but we all make mistakes.
But tonight the Leafs face their greatest challenge yet: the Buffalo Sabres. Anyone who's so much as glanced at a hockey stats chart knows that Buffalo is historically, earth-shatteringly bad this year. They are the circle way on the other side of the chart, the line that drops precipitously, like a ski jump. It's up for debate how much of this awfulness is intentional, but the Sabres front office has certainly helped it along. They've been stockpiling draft picks in exchange for any halfway decent player they can throw at another team and are currently icing what is essentially an AHL roster. Most recently, they traded a good goalie (Michal Neuvirth) for a bad goalie (Chad Johnson) because the good goalie was winning too many of his starts. They're #30 and all but guaranteed to stay there. In short, they're tank masters. And they make the Leafs look like amateurs.
Gone are the days when the Leafs could rejoice in the easy two points that would surely come from a game against the Sabres. Now that the Leafs need to lose, they'll have to sink to the Sabres' level. It'll be tough. They'll have to fight their natural instincts. But if the Leafs are truly committed to the tank, it's what they have to do.
Tonight's game will determine the true tank master. May the best tank lose.
The Leafs score a few early goals out of habit, then get a rousing "lose-now" pep talk from Nonis in the first intermission which inspires them to stop trying.
Kessel scores; analysts complain that Kessel only tries when the Leafs play easy teams.
Leafs just barely lose, in overtime, 3-2.This is our Stanley Cup!