Anyone following this team in earnest over the last two seasons is familiar with a number of this young group’s faults. One is their propensity to elevate their game to a different level – at the very last possible moment. The shortened season was better in this respect, as a team that the hockey world thought little of went out every night with the goal of proving themselves. This culminated in a showdown with the Bruins in the playoffs, wherein the team’s speed, determination, and some miraculous goaltending propelled the series to seven games.

Fast forward to this season. A group of young Leafs have forced the aforementioned hockey world to take them seriously. Predictions varied this time – but many saw this club as a playoff threat with upside. Is it possible that the mere act of making the playoffs was enough for this group to rest just a little too easily on their laurels?

Certainly, it’s not a defining trait of the team, as some of their best players in Kessel and Phaneuf are rarely short on effort. But one needs to look no further than Joffrey Lupul’s game as this losing streak has progressed to witness this characteristic in action. Lupul, who is counted on to be one of this club’s very best forwards, has only recently began moving his legs and driving the net with the intensity that we know he can bring. As others have mused this season, this is an area where the Leafs miss players such as MacArthur, Grabovski and Komarov. While not the offensive talent that Lupul is, these three gave 100% each shift (pardon the cliché) and defined the fast, determined game that propelled the Leafs to success last season.

For a lot of 2013-2014, Toronto has made do with elite first line scoring, elite goaltending, and a mishmash of mediocre across the rest of the board. With their backs against the wall tonight, it was time for the Leafs as a whole to put up or shut up. No more hockey platitudes – just win.

1st Period

Entering a notoriously hostile building with an ongoing tendency to cough up early goals? Yeah, to literally nobody’s surprise, the Leafs continued this trend (despite an admittedly energetic start to the game). Firstly, Cody Franson looked as cumbersome as ever in his attempts to hold the offensive line and took a penalty in the process. This was followed by a soft tripping call on Kulemin to put Toronto down two men early. To make matters worse, McClement was inexplicably thrown out of the circle on the ensuing draw. The result – Dion Phaneuf’s first ever NHL faceoff. Salivating at the opportunity, Philadelphia’s potent power play wasted no time in capitalizing. The recently demoted/motivated Lecavalier fired a one timer past Bernier and thus began another night of playing from behind.

Halfway through what turned out to be a respectable first period for the Leafs, Kadri made a nice play to set up a trailing Gunnarson. Gunnarson, who has come on as strong offensively in recent months as we’ve ever seen, put it in the net. Unfortunately, an eager Lupul bumped into Mason as he drove the crease. This was one that usually would not be called goalie interference, but served to nullify Gunnarson’s goal on this occasion. Otherwise, Toronto’s best chance of the period was a frantic scramble at the end of first on the powerplay. The stimulus for this chance: the now rare Dion Phaneuf shot from the right side.

2nd Period

Bozak and JVR epitomized Toronto’s quick strike offense with their goal just four seconds into the second. They embarrassed Couturier and Timonen respectively as they darted up the ice right off the faceoff. They burned the two Flyers with their speed and Bozak fed it to JVR who fired it home to tie it up.

With the fast paced game of these two squads on display tonight, one can only imagine the chaos that might have been had Reimer been in net. Contrarily, Bernier was his usual calming self, with Philadelphia’s only goal of the period being a powerplay deflection. Hartnell got his stick on a Timonen wrister, as the Flyers powerplay cashed in again. In a rare turn of events, Toronto finished the second leading in shots as the importance of this game went directly to the players’ legs and sticks.

3rd Period

With the desperation factor at a season-high, the Leafs came out hungry in the third. After some tenacious puck work, Kulemin found Phaneuf from behind the net. Despite a golden opportunity, the captain was shut down by Mason. As it goes in Leafland, JVR subsequently tried an ill-advised cross-ice pass that wound up on the wrong player’s stick. Claude Giroux raced in unimpeded on the wing and fired a laser in off the bar over Bernier to make it 3-1.

Thankfully, this tally was soon returned in kind. A strong shift from the Bolland line saw Clarkson launch the puck at the net a few times (something noticeably lacking in his game this year). Bolland went to retrieve Clarkson’s rebound from the corner, only to be hauled down, drawing a penalty. However, it would never make it to the man advantage, as the puck found it’s way back to Bolland with an extra attacker on and a yawning cage in front of him. 3-2 for the Flyers.

With the phrase “too little too late” possibly becoming the epitaph for this season, Philadelphia quenched Toronto’s fire with their fourth of the night. A bobbled puck by Phaneuf lead to Simmonds hounding the disc off of an unaware Kadri in the slot. The Ontario native drove it home and that was all she wrote for the night. A late powerplay went for naught and Phaneuf took out some of his frustration on Jake Voracek with a tussle in the corner.

This was a knockout blow to the Leafs’ playoff hopes. The staggering Leafs will have to win at least six of their last seven games to have a real chance at the postseason this year. Hard to believe.

Fenwick chart for 2014-03-28 Maple Leafs 2 at Flyers 4

EV fenwick chart for 2014-03-28 Maple Leafs 2 at Flyers 4

Toronto Maple Leafs vs Philadelphia Flyers

Steve Mason (31-17-6)W34320.94159:56:00
Braydon Coburn0023:49-110003100
Sean Couturier0019:25-1101091100
Claude Giroux1216:0912012101100
Nicklas Grossmann0021:30110005401
Adam Hall0014:15000320201
Scott Hartnell1115:33124002100
Vincent Lecavalier1013:32030433011
Andrew MacDonald0119:52002001201
Tye McGinn008:13010002000
Michael Raffl0014:54010011001
Matt Read0019:46-110001210
Zac Rinaldo0111:32-100005110
Luke Schenn0015:50000005111
Brayden Schenn0010:52030541000
Wayne Simmonds1012:03020002000
Mark Streit0021:14110001000
Kimmo Timonen0215:59-140001102
Jakub Voracek0015:36162000030


Jonathan Bernier (25-18-7)L29250.86258:45:00
Troy Bodie004:58020001020
Dave Bolland1011:33122651000
Tyler Bozak0122:2601012151110
David Clarkson0010:21120006000
Cody Franson0022:00102006010
Jake Gardiner0124:31:00240001401
Tim Gleason0014:25-100001300
Carl Gunnarsson0017:08022004101
Nazem Kadri0016:55022652001
Phil Kessel0022:39010000110
Nikolai Kulemin0012:05-112003000
Joffrey Lupul0016:57-120004200
Jay McClement009:32000582200
Colton Orr004:26010002000
Dion Phaneuf0021:17-234015200
Mason Raymond0116:56140001010
Morgan Rielly0020:44010003011
James van Riemsdyk1024:31:00060001303
Toronto Maple Leafs vs Philadelphia Flyers

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