Can we please finally let the pipe dream die? Pretty please?
The Toronto Maple Leafs will not be making an appearance in the 2008 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
For those still holding onto the belief that the typical late season charge employed by the Leafs in each of the past few seasons would earn them entry to the postseason, the events of this past weekend must have all but killed the hope.
Playing without their captain, Mats Sundin, and losing forward Nik Antropov in the first period to a knee injury proved to be too much to overcome. The Leafs laid a stinker, falling 6-2 to the red hot Buffalo Sabres.
It's true, no one single loss is ever the proverbial straw to break the camel's back. But this one was close.
Worse than the loss alone was the fact that the Sabres are one of three teams between the Leafs and the Philadelphia Flyers in eighth. They're a team the Leafs can simply not afford to let pull away in the standings.
Hopefully this latest loss can bring about some positive steps in next season's improvement.
Still, with his job likely already lost, it's hard to imagine Paul Maurice can comfortably turn his attention so far ahead.
Some starts for Andrew Raycroft would be a good start, however. This could serve to build up a little confidence that must surely be lacking after his being relegated to the bench for so long.
Plus, this could work as an audition process for other teams who may be in the market for a goaltender in the offseason.
Another positive step for the Leafs down the stretch would be to give some increased ice time to the younger player, and see what they can do with the confidence of their coach and teammates behind them. At worst, it will show that they simply can't handle a regular shift.
But I suspect we'll find out more than just that.
The recent string of great play and timely wins by the Maple Leafs made for nothing more than a hollow shell of hope. When the streak began, they found themselves in 14th, with just the lowly Tampa Bay Lightning behind them.
Going into Saturday's game, the Leafs had only jumped to 12th, despite the 9-3-1 record amassed to that point.
If that isn't proof enough that the playoffs were always just a dream, I don't know what is.
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