Mike Kostka: The undrafted 27-year-old rookie defenceman who went from little-known AHL journeyman to, for a while anyway, first pairing defenceman in the spotlight of the hockey universe, soon becoming a lightning rod of criticism amid Randy Carlyle’s perceived poor roster decisions.
In the interest of fairness and context, let's take this story back to the beginning of the lockout-shortened 2013 season. Coach Carlyle had to be creative in the early going - if not all season - in trying to assemble a steady top four group of defencemen. Recall that Jake Gardiner was not himself at season’s beginning, still recovering from a concussion suffered with the Marlies. Gards did not play in the season opener and came back to play only two games (17 and 20 minutes respectively) before being sent to the Marlies (until March) to rediscover his game shape, timing and confidence. Gardiner was a defenceman who, given the promise of his rookie season and the seeming ease with which he skated the second most minutes per game on the team the year prior, many of us were banking on to shoulder a heavy workload. [more…]
Let's start this off with a bold proclamation: Dion Phaneuf's 2013 campaign was his best season in the NHL to date. I really believe that. Phaneuf has rounded into the complete, 1A defenseman that Brian Burke and Dave Nonis envisioned when they swindled the Calgary Flames into one of the most lop-sided trades in recent NHL history. [more…]
With their backs against the wall, the Maple Leafs will look to force a seventh game by winning at home for the first time this postseason.
Toronto will undoubtedly play with the desperation they showed for most of Friday night. The difference tonight will be that the Bruins are also starting to feel the pressure. Boston will be throwing everything and the kitchen sink at the Leafs and James Reimer in an effort to close out this series. With the continuing struggles of Seguin and Marchand, the offensive load will likely be carried by the Krejci line.
At the other end of the ice, two feisty Leafs centers in Mikhail Grabovski and Nazem Kadri earnestly want to make a contribution of their own to their team's success. With the way Grabovski has elevated his game in these playoffs, it should only be a matter of time before the Belorussian finds his name on the scoresheet. [more…]
The unexpected catharsis of Saturday’s night win in Boston has provided Leafs Nation with a much needed release of some tension and anger after game one’s eye-opening reality check.
The Leafs are now heading into Toronto tied with Boston after stealing home-ice advantage. For the first time since 2004, our Toronto Maple Leafs will host a playoff game in the Air Canada Centre! [more…]
It’s official. The Leafs will face the Bruins in round one.
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t hoping for the Habs on Tuesday. As much as the last four games against the Habs have been a mixed bag, the Leafs have been able to play their game and play to their strengths against Montreal. The Leafs have played the Bs much more competitively this season, but the Bruins have still been effective at negating the Leafs speed and skill up front, slowing them down and forcing them to grind for every goal. While the Bruins have backed into the playoffs, their forecheck is still top notch. For a Leafs team that struggles to diffuse a forecheck with efficient breakouts, that’s a scary prospect. The Bruins have experience, the core of a past Stanley Cup winner and play a tough playoff brand of hockey. [more…]
What a heart-breaker that was. [more…]
Post game Stats: Kessel now has his 14th of the season and with a hot streak incoming, should be able to hit 30 goals with 8 games left on the schedule. The Leafs’ penalty kill continues its excellence with a man down as they killed off three of the Rangers’ 20th ranked power-plays. And what a game it was after a first period that put my ADHD afflicted dog to sleep. [more…]
The Leafs are all but set to make the playoffs for the first time in nine years, yet there is an inordinate amount of vitriol being directed at Toronto’s head coach Randy Carlyle, for some reason.
Considering pretty well everyone predicted the Leafs not to make the playoffs, it’s pretty funny to see the coach leading a surprising playoff appearance - and a team that's currently fifth in the East and 7th in the League - get chastised. [more…]
The Leafs are back at it after a welcomed four day lull in the schedule. The deadline hurdle has been cleared for the players, with no significant additions or subtractions to the roster. The group that got the Leafs into this position is going to have a chance to finish what they started by clinching the Leafs' first playoff berth in eight years. It's tough to imagine James Reimer is viewing this as a vote of confidence, though, after his GM publicly admitted that Miikka Kiprusoff was of much interest to the team and that the two sides discussed the possibility of an extension. [more…]
Thanks to @mORRganRielly for the following submission:
Jake Gardiner sucks.
No, just kidding. He's pretty awesome. He is an immensely gifted, up-and-coming defenseman, but he does have a little bit of learnin' to do. In light of his recent scratch, I wanted to take an opportunity to delve more into his role with the Leafs and the relationship of his play against the overall performance of the Leafs defense over the course of the season. To that end, I will be looking strictly at even-strength play rather than specialized roles like the power-play or the penalty-kill. [more…]
That. That was the win that cemented the Leafs as playoff worthy. [more…]
Toronto overcame a slow start on the second night of a back-to-back set to close out the league-worst Florida Panthers at home. The game featured the return of Joffrey Lupul to the Kessel line, simultaneously heralding the revival of said line as contributing members of the team. [more…]