First of all, I know what youâ€™re thinking, and weâ€™re thinking it too; the â€œtorchâ€ for the upcoming Winter Games looks retarded. Anyways, it comes as no surprise as yet another team tries out their backup goaltender against the Leafs this season. Last year, by the end of January, the Leafs played 23 games against backup goaltenders in which they were 4-17-2. This year, same story, different team. Toskala looked to rebound back to his great 40 minutes in the Panthers game, but instead showed up as the guy who played the last 20 minutes and let in 3 goals in less than 10 minutes.
Toronto opens the scoring, Lee Stempniak? I was surprised as well, but nevertheless, he gets the game going. A few minutes later, he gets nervous about taking a hit (which never comes) in the corner and coughs it up for St. Louis who sets up the play to tie it up. Then Toskala is scored on during a 5 on 3 kill, thanks to the sloppy play by Kubina, but was deep and low in his crease. A few minutes later, Toskala comes way out of his crease to challenge St. Louis on the sharp angle, and somehow he lifts a back hander right past Toskala. 5 Minutes left in the first period, Toskala is pulled after allowing 4 goals on 12 shots. For those of you counting at home, thatâ€™s an incredible save percentage of 0.666, or one hell of a performance (I had to).
Then the game changed a direction. The insertion of Curtis Joseph, who looked completely surprised to be pushed into the game, anxiously made save after save while the refs allowed goaltender interference after goaltender interference. He was pushing players out of his crease all night, and Iâ€™m not talking the top of the crease; Iâ€™m talking players who were right at the goal line blocking off half the net so he couldnâ€™t get over. How are those not called? No worries, the Joseph of old is there to backstop the Leafs back into the game. Keep in mind, the team is already down 4-1.
Stempniak gets another crack on the point for the powerplay, which has really livened up his game as of late. These opportunities have made him a different player, and itâ€™s nice to see him starting to act like a hockey player instead of wasted space. Heâ€™s had a difficult campaign since leaving an offensively gifted lineup in St. Louis in which he was spotted alongside former Leafs 1st round pick, Brad Boyes. Stempniak scored a powerplay goal on what looked to be an iffy goal let in my McKenna, but Lee will take it. He now has 3 points in his last 4 games. Another mix with Dominic Moore is paying dividends for the club. Is there any doubt that Moore negotiating a contract to stick around is possibly the best thing Burke has done all year?
Minutes later, thanks to the great work by Kulemin and Grabovski, Hagman scored an incredible kick to his stick goal while fighting off a defender one on one. Game Score: 4-3. Thatâ€™s right, Joseph, who looked like the Joseph of the 90s, was here to show Toskala how to play hockey and got the Leafs back in the game when it seemed it was going to be a blowout.
Then something happened â€“ the 3rd Period began. The Leafs came out flat-footed, and after Joseph stopped a breakaway opportunity in which Lecavalier got not 1, but 2 opportunities, a one-timer on Lecavalier, a wrap around by Lecavalier, it was only a matter of time until the Leafs defense core would completely let down Joseph on what looked to be a night of revenge for his previous games. After watching his performance, I think he deserves another start. As he let in just 2 goals in the remaining 45 minutes on 19 shots. Thatâ€™s almost a 0.900 SV%. If you watched the game, you could see that Joseph was a man on a mission; however, the rest of the team was not there to help.
The Leafs ended up losing the game 6-4 and reminded me of this time one year ago when the Leafs were chasing down a playoff position. In that time, I proved that the Leafs could only lose 5 of their remaining 35 games if they wished to achieve that goal â€“ ultimately, they failed. It leads me to counting down another number this year, a number in which everyday decreases for the good of the franchise.
Lucky Number: 7
Iâ€™ll explain. Over the last few years, the average between each Conference of least amount of points necessary to make the playoffs is 91. The Leafs currently have 27 games left on the schedule and sit with just 50 points on the year. In order to hit 91 points, the Leafs cannot lose more than 6 games. If they fail to do so, they will officially be out of playoff contention and every point suffered from then on out brings them closer to a higher draft pick.
The Leafs must win 21 of their remaining 27 games, or play at a winning percentage of 0.777, which is 0.05 better than the sharks have played all season long. Each time the Leafs lose in overtime, that number decreases by 0.5. Consider this your countdown to a high draft pick. The closer the Leafs get to eliminating themselves from a playoff chance, the more poorly they will play down the stretch as there is no need for an exaggerated run in which everyone already knows is impossible to accomplish.
All in all, tonightâ€™s loss is a major win for the Leafs as it dropped that number 8 down to 7.
The Final Countdown is on.
Micheal A. Aldred