It was bound to happen sooner or later.
After an impressive (more like shocking) run of nine-straight games with a point (6-0-3), the Toronto Maple Leafs came up with a stinker against the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
The Leafs looked sluggish, the fans groaned, and it felt like the pre-All-Star break team was back in all it's misery. It didn't help that Corey Crawford stood on his head almost the entire night, making 30 saves, many of the outstanding variety.
The defense was a mess, leaving guys open all night, and constantly getting caught out of position. The offense couldn't match up with the speed and puck movement of Jonathan Toews and the gang either.
Rookie goaltender James Reimer had arguably his worst game of the season, allowing five goals on 19 shots through two periods—but it was his third game in four nights.
The Blackhawks came out guns blazing, and were up 3-0 after the first—and should have been up a whole lot more. It was 5-1 after the second, the game already over.
And though the Buds made it respectable late, they still missed out on a chance to gain within two points of the eighth-place Carolina Hurricanes, who were idle on this night.
It looked, and felt, bleak for the club as they headed off the ice, but the fact of the matter is, this lost isn't the end of the world. And it's certainly not the end of this incredible playoff run.
Not yet, anyway.
They weren't going to win every single game remaining on the schedule. And the fact that they ran into the buzz saw that is the Blackhawks right now makes it a little easier to bear for fans. Might as well lose to the hottest team in the NHL.
They can afford to lose a game here or there, just not much more than that the rest of the way.
Realistically, anything less than an 11-4-1 record—which would get them to 90 points—probably means they miss the playoffs. They currently have 67.
And now the most important game of the season—again—happens on Tuesday against the New York Islanders, a must-bounce-back game if there ever was one.
A win there, and they're right back on track. A loss, and it may prove to be too much of a hole to dig out of. Back-to-back losses is not something they can afford right now.
That's sort of the deal with these last minute postseason dashes. One is survivable. Two can be death.
But take a breath, Leafs fans, for Saturday night's loss may have brought the team and the city back to earth—for one night, anyway—but it didn't signal the end of the playoff hunt.
The team is still in it, and they've still got a shot to make some noise late. They just can't let this loss turn into one of those losing streaks we saw plenty of early in the season.
Because if that happens, and one loss turns into multiple losses, then Saturday night may prove to be as close to the playoffs as the Leafs get in 2010-11.