What a season it was in Toronto this year for the Maple Leafs. A season that started out with a thud, and though never truly recovered, it was one that saw them finish strong and leave fans with optimism of a bright future ahead.
It was a season defined by youth, and a number of old faces leaving to make way for the new generation of Maple Leafs, all the while trying to stay positive as the losses piled up as Ron Wilson's hair become a little more salt and lot less pepper.
And though many will remember the tough times of this year, with the incredibly harsh start, the struggles between the pipes (and everywhere else), the draft pick that could have been, and the fifth straight season without a playoff berth, we sure were witness to some truly great performances from a Leaf team that consistently showed their never-say-die attitude.
So even though the Leaf players will be watching the playoffs from the clubhouse of a ridiculously expensive golf course, there were still plenty of moments from the season that was that are worth taking a look at one last time.
Here now are the ten best games from the 2009-10 Maple Leafs season.
And then you can finally put this season to bed and look forward to next year when you hope those same Leaf players will be watching the playoffs from that same ridiculously expensive clubhouse—but after a playoff round or two of their own.
There are not many games that fans look forward to more than the first of a brand-new season. The offseason is over, along with the far too many preseason games, and the time for talk put aside for real game action.
When it's a Leafs and Canadiens classic matchup, the anticipation is even greater.
The games are always close and always heated, and the season opener of this season was no different.
The game had three fights and a scrum after almost every whistle. Much of the hatred centered around Mike Komisarek, booed every time he hit the ice by the large group of Montreal fans, who signed a contract with the Leafs in the summer after leaving the Habs.
Komisarek ended the game with a fight and 15 minutes in penalties, clearly feeling he had something to prove to his former team, which added even more to the rivalry.
The Leafs pumped 43 shots on Carey Price, who was outstanding in the back-and-forth affair that was tied after 60 minutes. But an overtime game with these two clubs is nothing new.
The game ended with a goal by Jacques Gorges in OT, awarding the Canadiens a 3-2 victory.
It makes you wonder though, that if the Leafs had won this game in overtime, how different their season would have gone and how different the team would be right now.
Maybe the team wouldn't go on to have such a rough start, which would obviously mean more points, finishing closer to the playoffs which would make the Boston draft pick lower, and evidently meaning no major trades during the season if Burke felt the team was still in playoff contention.
An interesting thing to ponder indeed, how one goal could have changed so much in a season, and so much for a team's future.
It’s not a stretch to say that, at this point, it’s a goal Leaf fans can probably live without.
There aren't many times that fans and players alike take a collective sigh of relief and scream "finally" less than ten games into a season, but when the Leafs traveled to Anaheim to face the Mighty Ducks, that is exactly what happened.
Having lost their first eight games, the Leafs limped into the game, fans already wondering if the team would ever win a game.
The first win of the season was an offensive explosion with former Leaf Nik Hagman potting a hat trick, and Tomas Kaberle lighting it up for a career-high five-point night. Toronto scored five power play goals and had one of their most complete games of the season.
The Ducks were known for their penalty troubles and they lived up to their billing, playing an undisciplined game and allowing the winless Leafs to walk in and claim their first W.
The game turned the attitude of Leaf Nation from grim to confident once again; it's just too bad they lost their next four games.
At least they were all in extra time.
What a season indeed.
With the Leafs being one of the NHL's worst defensive teams this season, playing a game against the league's highest-scoring team usually would spell disaster.
That was the setting when the Capitals visited Toronto, the Leafs gunning for their third straight win at home, with sophomore Luke Schenn a healthy scratch.
In what could, and should, have been a disaster, the Leafs came out swinging and absolutely took the league's best team to school.
Scoring three times in the second and third period, the Leafs won the game 6-3 and gave their fans, at least for one night, a peak at what it would be like if the club was a playoff contender.
Though Alex Ovechkin and Nik Backstrom had their usual offensive output, Kessel matched their efforts with a goal and two assists of his own in the win.
The energy in the ACC was electric and the team was serenaded with "Go Leafs Go" chants as the final seconds ticked off the clock. It was a scene that folks around Toronto hope will be the norm in the years to come.
It's tough to imagine a great game between the Leafs and the New Jersey Devils, but this season there were a few beauties involving the two; this night was no different.
It was a hard fought game that the Devils led 4-2 with five minutes remaining. A safe lead, of course, what with arguably the best goalie ever between the pipes, right? Wrong. At least on this night.
Matt Stajan and Alex Ponikarovsky added two quick goals to send the game into overtime.
Toronto eventually lost in the extra frame, to continue their early season pathetic OT record, but the game had shown the never-say-die attitude that this Leafs team was all about for the duration of this season.
It was also a game that saw Colton Orr score a breakaway goal on Martin Brodeur.
Hands up if everything about that sentence just seems wrong.
Still, a solid game nonetheless.
It was quite possibly the most anticipated game involving the Leafs in a long time. The debut game for the Leaf newcomers Dion Phaneuf, Fredrick Sjostrom, and J.S. Giguere, who all impressed in one of the most complete games of the season.
The building was electric for the current team as well as a buzz about what the new players would do for the team in the coming years.
It got even louder the first time Phaneuf used his physical play like he is known to do. The combination of himself and Kessel has Leaf fans excited about two players unlike they've been for years.
It didn't hurt that Giguere posted a shutout, stopping 30 shots in a 3-0 win that sent fans into a frenzy, running through the streets claiming the Stanley Cup for themselves.
They were quickly brought back down to earth, as per usual, but nevertheless, the sign of the new additions working so well so quickly certainly made this game one of the most memorable of the year.
The best team in the West rolled into Toronto in what was seen as a sure win for the visiting San Jose Sharks.
The Leafs had traded away the majority of their offense just two games prior and to make things worse two players, Christian Hanson and Fredrick Sjostrom, came down ill before the came. That meant that a last minute call up of Jay Rosehill and first-round pick Nazim Kadri, who would play in his first career NHL game.
The game was a tight one as the Leafs bunkered down and played a tight first two periods against the powerful Sharks. Going into the third it was tied 2-2, after goals from Phil Kessel and Tyler Bozak.
After two consecutive shutouts to start his Maple Leaf career, J.S. Giguere looked strong once again and had the Leafs in contention right until the end. With seven minutes remaining, Ryan Clowe put the Sharks up one for good.
A hard-fought 3-2 loss to one of the league's best teams, in which the Leafs outshot the Sharks and hung with them throughout most of the game.
Though moral victories are hardly worth being proud about, if there was ever a game to do so, it would be this one.
It was Giguere's first loss as a Leaf, but it was part of the turning point to the season after the big trades that saw the Leafs gain confidence and play much better hockey.
If it wasn't obvious before, this season made it crystal clear: The Battle of Ontario is alive and well. And there was no shortage of hatred in this affair.
It was the final matchup of the season between the two teams and while the Sens were worried about locking up a playoff position, the Leafs and their fans were essentially more worried about Colton Orr and his fighting victories than the result in the game.
And in true Leaf fashion, there was no fight involving Orr and his favourite partner, Matt Carkner. Always with the disappointment.
The game was heated as usual and the Sens came into the game struggling mightily, which was fine for the Leafs who were playing some of their best hockey of the season.
The Leafs scored two in the second and eventually won the game 4-1, but not before an ugly hit from behind by Daniel Alfredsson on Francois Beauchemin in the third—not the first time he's had a controversial hit against the Leafs.
It was an extremely entertaining game to watch with plenty of the rough stuff, and set the stage for another great year of the Battle of Ontario next season.
It's always a great game to watch when it involves Sidney Crosby, but when the Leafs go punch for punch with the Cup champs for 60 minutes and end up tied, it's even better.
It was a matinee affair in Pittsburgh that saw Crosby add two goals to his league-leading total, as well as Kessel pot his 30th. And that was just the second period.
Speed and skill was on display from the beginning until end from both clubs and there were no shortage of chances at either end of the ice.
Regulation ended tied after Matt Cooke scored with less than three minutes remaining, and after the extra five solved nothing it was off to a shootout.
But when a team finds themselves in a shootout against the Penguins, it's almost a guaranteed loss. Crosby was 80% on his shootout attempts this season, and added to his total in this one as the Leafs fell 5-4, while still gaining a point.
But to see the young Leafs team motivated and hanging with the more highly skilled Pens club was great to see, and made for a great game to watch no matter the outcome.
Yet another "finally" game for the Leafs, as the Buffalo Sabres rolled into town on a 10-game winning streak against Toronto.
Quite frankly, Ryan Miller and the boys down the QEW simply have owned the Leafs of late, and the buds had one last chance on the season to end their dreadful play against Buffalo.
And it was the unlikeliest of players to do the damage. After Viktor Stalberg got the first, goals were scored by Garnett Exelby, Luke Schenn, and Fredrick Sjostrom to push the Leafs to a 4-2 win.
Schenn broke the 2-2 tie in the third and the Leafs were in control from there as the home crowd was treated to a win against a team they hadn't seen one against in a long time.
Just another example of this young team sending a message that things around Toronto could be different than they've been for the last five years.
It ended just as it started; well, almost anyways, as the Leafs and Canadiens once again solved nothing through three periods and finished the game (and season) in overtime.
The game had extra luster for the Leafs in that if they won in regulation they had a chance to end the Habs' chances of squeaking into the playoffs. It didn't work out as planned—they scored a few minutes late for that to happen—but a 4-3 OT win against the classic rivals was the perfect way to end the season.
An epic rivalry to be sure.
And just for some icing on the proverbial cake, it was Phaneuf who ended it, almost guaranteed to be the future captain of the Leafs by the next time they step on the ice.
A fitting end to a season that started as a train wreck, but ended with the future looking extremely bright.
We can only hope that in the list of 10 best Leaf games next season, at least a few of them are from the playoffs.