When you look at the Toronto Maple Leafs' season, it is easy to point to their eight-game slump in late October through early November as the catalyst as to why they are so close, yet so far away from a playoff spot this season.
On the other hand, last night’s game against the Florida Panthers is another example of a missed opportunity to further their chances at making the playoffs for the first time since what seems like a decade ago.
Fresh off the heels of an impressive win against the Carolina Hurricanes (who are also right in the playoff mix), the Maple Leafs put in a listless, often mistake-prone effort against the Panthers, a team that is well out of the playoff race.
It's games like these that playoff teams win, it's games like these that have often killed the Maple Leafs' chance at the dance this season.
Head coach Ron Wilson chose to start veteran goaltender J.S. Giguere on Thursday night. Rookie goaltender James Reamer had started 13 games in a row, leading many to believe that Reimer needed a rest.
In a media scrum after Wednesday night’s game, Wilson vehemently denied that Reimer was tired, suggesting he couldn’t win anyway no matter which goaltender he started at this point, saying to somehting to the effect of, “If I start Giguere, I am an idiot.” or "If I don't start Reimer, I am an idiot", one or the other.
To be fair, Wilson was right. If he had continued to start Reimer and the kid let in three or four goals against the Panthers, then Wilson should have seen it coming.
If he opted to start Giguere (who did let in three goals against the Panthers) then everyone is going to be calling him an idiot Friday morning, which I’ll assume many Leaf fans are (calling Wilson an idiot this morning).
In the end, Giguere wasn’t all bad, but just like the team in front of him, Giguere lacked focus and just plain didn’t have his best game.
That said, in order to win a hockey game, you have to score goals. The blue and white were unable to beat former Maple Leaf netminder Scott Clemmensen, which led to the Buds being shut out for the 11th time this season.
After a quick goal at the 0:49 mark of the second period, a pair of second-period power play goals from the Panthers completely deflated any chance the Maple Leafs had of getting back in the game.
With the team already down 3-0 and the Florida Panthers already down a man, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson made a desperate attempt to get something going when he pulled Maple Leafs starter J.S. Giguere with just over five minutes left in the third period.
Despite being 6-on-4 for nearly a full two minutes the Buds failed to register a shot much less score a goal, in fact, the Panthers struck for their fourth goal on the night, which pretty much tells the story for this Maple Leafs team on Thursday night.
That game will mark the first time the Maple Leafs will face Kaberle since he was traded to the Bruins in mid-February.
Kaberle, who had spent his entire 12-year career with the Maple Leafs, should get a standing ovation from the Leafs Nation. He was a good soldier, both on and off the ice and maybe the best player the Maple Leafs have drafted in the past 20 years.
Since coming over form the Blue and White, Kaberle has registered three assists in 12 games with the Bruins. Kaberle has had a steadying effect on the Bruins defense and looks to be helping to solidify the power play with his pinpoint passing ability.
With Thursday night’s loss, the Maple Leafs still sit four points back of the Buffalo Sabres, who own the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.
That said, the Sabres now hold two games in hand on the Maple Leafs, which puts the Blue and White behind the eight ball.
Needless to say, if the Maple Leafs have any hope of making the playoffs this season, they will have to all but run the table in their final 10 games, a feat that is looking all but impossible at this point.
Until next time,