I have been watching the leafs for 12 years now (the better part of my life) and I can honestly say, without any doubt in my mind, that a group of hockey players must have kidnapped the Leafs, stolen their jerseys, and played out the entire first period of Toronto’s 3-2 win over the Rags, before letting the real Leafs back on the ice in the 2nd. There is no other explanation for it.
I have never in my life seen such play by the Leafs to this day. Constant pressure, perfect cycling, heads up playmaking, driving to the net, well placed shots, outstanding goaltending, smart match-ups, key face-off wins, winning battles, proper positioning, well-placed outlet passes, and the list goes on. It was an entirely different team. As quickly as it came, it left, as the 2nd period was a team that played back at the level I have been used to for a while. However, I want to focus on the positive here. What was it that made this team play the way they did? Steroids in the water bottles was my first thought, but then saner thoughts prevailed.
The answer? Dadda. The father-son road trip (I believe) was the cause of this effort. While all fathers were present for the 4-1 loss to the Bruins on Saturday, the Bruins were clearly the better team and did not give the Leafs a chance to play the game they wish they had played. All the more reason to step it up more at the very next opportunity; the opportunity at Madison Square Garden.
If you used to play hockey as a child you can most likely relate to my experiences. The games that used to mean the world to you. The frozen cold rink, the parents screaming at the 16 year old official who just made a bad call and knows his tires are already slashed in the parking lot, and your goalie who is sweating bullets after letting in that weak goal in a 2-2 game when he knows the team needed him most. In the final minutes, when you thought all hope was lost of coming back in the game, what always helped me was looking up at the stands and seeing that look on my dad’s face. You know, the one that said ‘Get your head out of your ass and win this one for me or you’re walking home’. That had to be the look that the Leafs got after the Bruins romp on Saturday.
The Leafs entered last night’s game on a mission. The mission? To not only win, but to dominate one of the NHL’s hottest teams over the last 10 games. Dominate they did, as the Rags looked like boys playing against men for that first period. Like I said, I have never seen such hockey out of the Blue and White. It made me happy, thankful, and annoyed. Allow me to explain.
I was happy that our team was for once on the dominating side. I am more than used to sitting on my couch, hand pressed tightly against the fore-head, wondering why my team even bothered to show up at the rink at all if they were going to play this way. A feeling I am sure most Ranger’s fans were going through for the first 20 minutes.
I was thankful that Burke had assembled a team of players that were actually capable of playing the way they did during that time span. It is nice to know that the youngest team in the league has the ability to play such mature hockey, even though they have relatively little experience playing together up to this point.
Why was I annoyed you ask? Simple. Why is it that if we are capable of playing that way, we have only done so in one period, in one game this season? As I normally do, I go back to the coach. Why can he not motivate his team to play that way game-in and game-out, with only a few lapses throughout the season?
I do give him credit for the idea to have this father-son road trip to help spark the team, but he can’t rely on that for more than a few games of the season. In the end it is going to fall on him to make this team play to their potential each and every game. Hopefully after seeing that play, it has opened Wilson’s and everyone else’s eyes to what we are capable of as a team, and what we would need to play like to be a force in this league. Make no mistake about it, we have the tools to be a force and have enough youth to ensure it is not short lived.
So here I stand the day after witnessing what most Leaf fan’s have not see from their team in some time, if ever. We played one of the most convincing periods ever, against one of the hottest teams in the league, and ended up with the W. We now come home to face a team who has failed to find any momentum this season. Normally I would not set my expectations too high, only hoping for a win, but this is no longer the case. I have seen what we are capable of and I am hungry for more.
I am entering today’s game in an optimistic mood. If we come out of the gates as we did last night, the game will be over before the sound of the first period buzzer. Here’s to the hope that the players and coaches have finally realized their potential as a team and are going to do everything in their power to continue living up to it in the near future.
My optimistic view:
End of 1st: 3-0 Leafs
End of 2nd: 5:0 Leafs
End of 3rd: 7-1 Leafs
Go Leafs Go!!!