How many rides on an emotional roller coaster can a fan base take without suffering permanent damage?
The Toronto Maple Leafs are doing everything they can to find that answer.
After two seasons of below expected returns, the Leafs are once again putting their fans through the wringer as they make a valiant effort with nothing but false hope left to play for.
Coming into the home-and-home with the Philadelphia Flyers this week, those who held out even the slimmest of hopes for a playoff appearance by the Leafs believed nothing short of a regulation sweep (therefore gaining four points) would keep the dream alive.
Well, almost nothing.
The Leafs managed to win both games, but gained only three points on the Flyers for the eighth spot in the East by virtue of an overtime win in the first game. However, after the improbable third period comeback which demonstrated incredible heart and pride, the whispers of what could be are once again making their rounds amongst the Leaf faithful.
Hollow dreams at best, if you ask me.
I'll take nothing away from the performance of the Leafs this week, though we often lose sight of the fact that this wasn't exactly the Detroit Red Wings the Leafs were taking on. Let's not forget this same Flyers squad is also battling to be an also-ran in the playoffs. However, in tempering my enthusiasm, I immediately question where this effort was when the pressure was really on, such as the 8-0 loss to the Florida Panthers on Feb. 5th.
Playing with such determination and guts in the face of insurmountable odds is admirable, but perhaps next year, try it when the games mean something.
I remember the past two seasons, with the Leafs finishing oh so close in ninth. I remember pulling so hard for the Devils to beat the Islanders on the final day of the season last year. I also remember the emotional crash when the Isles clinched their playoff appearance with a shootout win.
Please Maple Leafs, I can't handle that again. Stop toying with my emotions.