Any hopes of Toronto spoiling Montreal’s playoff run were officially put to bed on Saturday night, as the Canadiens, for one night at least, managed to resemble last season’s squad.
Leaf Nation had hoped their previous victory would be the final nail in the coffin for the Habs; instead, that loss seems to have been the catalyst that broke the Habs (who have gone 5-0-1 since) out of their slumber.Â Â Could this get any worse for Leaf fans?
Unfortunately, yes. Â Toronto – and there is no gentler way to put this – simply mailed this one in.Â Against – of all teams – Montreal.Â Â The effort (or lack thereof) from many of the players was surely a disappointment to many Leaf fans who, no matter what the standings say, are always up for a good old Leafs-Habs tilt.Â Montreal, now with a firm hold on a playoff spot, came out firing.Â Â Toronto did not, which certainly could not have sat well with coach Ron Wilson or GM Brian Burke, neither of whom cares for the concept of Tank Nation.
When asked about the difference in play during the past couple of games, Wilson did not hold back:
“We had a couple of guys coming off injuries who want to play but haven’t played very hard. Â You send a couple of guys down who’ve worked really hard, who give you an effort … that’s the difference, plain and simple.”
One would assume that would be a thinly-veiled reference to Kaberle and Hagman.Â I thought Hagman looked okay early on, but then seemed to fade after the first period. Kaberle seemed tentative and out of step the entire game.Â Â But it was far from just those two who didn’t seem up for the game.
Matt Stajan echoed this sentiment, admitting that “we just weren’t good.”
Arguably, the only Leaf players to show up for the entire 60 minutes were Jay Harrison and Mikhail Grabovski.Â Â Harrison took on Georges Laraque, and held his own. I don’t care who you are, that takes a a heck of a lot of courage and heart.Â Â Grabovski took a ton of punishment throughout the entire game and kept on coming, eventually delivering some punishment of his own by knocking Andrei Markov – Montreal’s top defenseman – out of the game with seven minutes left to play.
“Grabo can play for me any time when he plays like that, that hard. I wish we had some more guys who showed as much heart and courage as Grabo does every single night. No matter how he gets cut, hit, down and out, he comes right back. You can’t stop him.”
I think the key to the rebuilding philosophy lies somewhere in that statement.Â Many people wondered why GM Brian Burke, who is known to like bigger players and is falsely assumed to dislike Europeans, put Grabovski on his untouchables list approaching the trade deadline.Â Â Those same questions were raised earlier in the week when Burke mentioned he did not care where a player came from, be it CHL, college, Mars, or, yes, even Europe.
The answer, in a word?Â Heart.Â Â Â While Burke’s previous rosters indicate that he may prefer larger-bodied players, he has been around the game long enough to know that the size of the player’s body only provides so much advantage. It is the size of the player’s heart, and his desire, that will ultimately determine his effectiveness.Â Â You can have all the size you want up front on the top two lines, but it won’t do you any good unless those guys are willing to play hard each and every night for a full 60 minutes.Â Which is exactly what Wilson was suggesting in his comments about Grabovski, and the rest of the team.
For the season, the Leafs and Canadiens were 3-3 in 6 games against each other.Â It seems that an even split in the season series has been par for the course for this heated rivalry for a few seasons in a row now.
Next up for the Maple Leafs are the New Jersey Devils, followed by rivalry games against Buffalo and Ottawa to close out the season.Â Perhaps the Toronto players will be more willing to send a message to their rivals to look out for this team next season, before heading to the golf course, than they were last night against what was supposed to be their most heated rivalry.