When a team has a goaltending controversy, they find themselves in a situation where their backup is playing well enough to steal the job from the current starting goalie.
This was thought to be the case in Toronto early on in the season, when, through the first two weeks, Vesa Toskala looked like he was in the wrong league. He was absolutely pitiful and to this day has still not won a single game of the seven he has played.
Jonas Gustavsson was the stud that came over from Sweden during the offseason and signed with the Leafs, which immediately caused rumblings that Toskala's job was the Monster's for the taking.
It wasn't long that those rumblings became truth and it looked as if the Leafs would turn to their rookie net minder to save the season. After recovering from injury, Gustavsson came in and put up solid numbers that saw the Leafs go on a run of points in eight straight games.
A collective sigh of relief was heard throughout Leaf Nation, as the fans finally felt comfortable with their goalie, who looked to be improving as each game passed, and had the rest of the team's confidence soaring.
Not for long.
Soon enough, the Leafs had a game against the Minnesota Wild on November 10 in Toronto. Going into the second period tied 1-1; the Leafs looked as if they were poised to get at least one point out of the game for a ninth straight time.
But in less than 15 minutes, the game went from tied to a 4-1 lead for the Wild with two of the goals 26 seconds apart. The game was essentially over after that. With Niklas Backstrom shutting it down in the net at the other end of the ice, there was no way the Leafs were going to battle back; the hole they had dug was far too deep.
It wasn't a terrible display of goaltending from Gustavsson, who stopped 26 shots in the loss, but that second period letdown was the ultimate killer for a team that was on such a high.
A solid performance ruined in less than a period. All because the goalie couldn't come up with the key save when the team needed it most.
Then came Nov. 13 against the Blackhawks. Toskala was given the start and played very well, but again the Leafs found themselves in a hole that they just couldn't get out of.
Just 3:22 into the game, Luke Schenn came around the net with the puck, only to have Patrick Kane sneak in from behind, steal the puck and roof it on Toskala. In no way Toskala's fault, who had enough reason to crack the sophomore defender on the back of the knees for his mistake, but the Leafs were once again down.
Ten minutes later it was 2-0.
Then came a controversial play that the Leafs won't soon forget. Niklas Hagman had three slaps at the puck in close with Cristobal Huet down with only his glove out against the post to stop the puck. The first two attempts were kept out by Huet's left hand, but the third whack of the puck saw it disappear inside the glove, behind the post.
Leafs celebrated momentarily thinking they had cut the lead in half, but the refs were not convinced and went upstairs to get a second look.
To no one's surprise, the Leafs, once again, were given a bad break as the goal was disallowed after those reviewing it deemed the play inconclusive, and therefore not enough evidence to overturn the play on the ice.
"I know they say inconclusive, but I don't know if it can get more conclusive than that from our point of view," said coach Ron Wilson after the game, a sentiment shared by many.
Needless to say, Huet came up with a clutch save (with a little help from above) and later on in the game stymied Matt Stajan with that same glove who was staring at a wide open net.
Phil Kessel made the game close, 3-2 in the dying minutes, but the Leafs had fallen too far behind and it was too little, too late. A solid game when you don't look at the final score, but in this business, just as legendary NFL coach Vince Lombardi once said, "Winning isn't everything, it's the only thing."
Another game where the Leafs gave up the early lead, another loss because they couldn't catch up in the end. Another shameful exit from the ice as the opposing net minder is praised for outstanding play.
Saturday night at home against Calgary was no different than the previous two—other than the fact that it was much, much worse.
The Leafs were down 2-0 to the Flames less than two minutes into the game. Gustavsson had gotten the start, and though the shots that went in were almost picture perfect, they are the kinds that need to be stopped.
A 3-1 lead for the Flames going into the second period, Gustavsson pulled after allowing three goals on just five shots, and Leafs coaching staff looking to the heavens wondering what they have to do to get a solid start in net.
For the second straight game the Leafs made a valiant comeback effort, severely outplaying the Flames, outshooting them 20-4 in the second period, and cutting the lead to 3-2 going into the final period.
You know the story from there. Mikka Kiprusoff stole the show, Iginla added another goal to push the lead to 4-2, and the game was over after an empty-netter nailed the coffin shut.
Toskala came in and stopped 15 of 17 shots, almost doing enough to win, but not able to recover from the early lead Calgary gained, while watching the opposition steal the show in a 5-2 loss; their third in a row.
As Flames defender Robyn Regehr said after the game about Kiprusoff, "Thank goodness he was there. I thought for most of the first period and all of the second period, they were the better team."
Leafs goalie does almost enough to win, while their counterpart across the rink steals the game. The same old story for the Leafs, and one that has to stop if they plan on having this season even come close to resembling a success.
Right now in Toronto, that goalie controversy that was so widely talked about earlier in the season can be put on hold until one of them starts making those key saves in a game. The team is sick of losing games they should have won, and it has to start in net.
One big save could be the difference for the team right now, who find themselves with fewer W's than a Skittles factory so far this season. The word "almost" is being used far too much, and it's up to either Toskala or Gustavsson to change that.
I guess that means there is a goaltending controversy in Toronto right now.
Just not the kind that has either goalie winning very many games.
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