So the first two games of the Leafs’ 2017-18 playoff run—for run, read crawl; for crawl, read stationary writhing in the dirt—have been a pile of garbage. The penalty kill has gotten shredded into itty little bits. The Bergeron line that we all worried about has nineteen thousand points, whereas Auston Matthews has scored at the rate of a religious hermit living in the desert. Everything sucks!
We’ve had to enjoy the rat of all rats, Brad Marchand, clowning us, while our own super rat got himself suspended. And it’s his own damn fault. The most successful Leafs team of all time, at least in wins and points, is poised to go out ugly in four or five games. I’m not dressing that one up. It’s bad.
Because we live in Hockey Take Hell, we’ve got a roiling whirl of dumb hockey opinions over Whose Fault This Is and How To Fix It. Mike Babcock is a bad coach, actually, and the Leafs ought to start playing Matt Martin because maybe his one point per ten games will come due in Game 3, and you can’t Win In The Playoffs with this team full of Not Winners because they’re Not Winning In The Playoffs. Is Auston Matthews a leader? Should the Leafs have drafted Laine or Dubois or perhaps a nice floral arrangement first overall in 2016? On and on and on, forever, until you finally hit your head into your desk enough times that you lose consciousness or you start loving yourself enough to get off Twitter. Whichever.
In the face of all that, I can only speak the ancient words of my people, passed down through generations of famine, poverty, despair, and Dave Nonis. All together now:
Okay. Nice, deep breath now.
The Leafs aren’t this bad. We know because, if they were, they’d have finished closer to 50 points than 105. The penalty kill, much as it is composed of guys who seem to be old, busted, incompetent, and/or Roman Polak, is not going to kill/be killed at a 50% rate over any kind of extended stretch. It is unfortunate that they got mashed like this at the worst possible time, and suddenly took a million penalties, and the fact Boston won’t sustain this rate is of little consolation when they really don’t have to in order to close us out by the end of this week. But it’s true.
Freddie Andersen is not an .822 goalie. Auston Matthews is due a couple goals if his shooting percentage doesn’t stay zero. The Leafs, contra the last two games, are a real team composed of real hockey players. That doesn’t mean they’re better than Boston (they aren’t) or that they’re doing a good job against the Bergeron line (they’re not) or that they deserved to win twice in Boston (laughing/crying.) It means they’re not the failing fucking failures we’ve had the misfortune of training our eyes on lately.
That matters because they have a chance of winning Game 3, and in the likely event they’re eliminated by Boston, it means they still have the base of a good team. It isn’t enough, clearly, but it ought to hold back half-decent management from to trading Nylander for Brooks Orpik, or whatever else some 1970-brained hockey pundit prescribes. If we have to take the L on this season, there’s at least a core that can make it to the point of putting up Ws. It’s another “Wait ‘Til Next Year” line, and that sucks, but as those go, it’s something.
And, hey, some of the pressure’s off. Not so much the team—no one in the Leafs dressing room is anything other than tense right now, I suspect—but on us. Okay, we got our guts ripped out in Boston. It sucks and we’re probably going to lose the series. So let’s see if they can entertain us for a night, and at least do better than getting smoked by a -4 deficit. The odds are they’re doomed, but the odds are also they’ll give us something better to watch than Games 1 & 2.
There’s a Game 3, and it ought to be worth watching. In all our time as Toronto fans, we’ve had it much worse. So fuck it, go Leafs go.