An ugly loss for Maple Leafs

Maple Leafs defenceman Keith

Maple Leafs defenceman Keith "Muhammad" Aulie lands on Panthers forward Ryan Carter during a fight in Sunrise, Florida on March 17, 2011. (HANS DERYK/Reuters)

MIKE ZEISBERGER, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:45 PM ET

SUNRISE, Fla. — The sound of the final horn blaring throughout the BankAtlantic Center had barely faded when the second-guessing of Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson heated up.

The issue at hand: With the race for a playoff spot precariously heading down the home stretch, why play rusty veteran J-S Giguere, who had not started a game since Feb. 16, a span of a month and a day?

To be fair, the Maple Leafs crushing 4-0 loss at the hands of the lowly Florida Panthers on Thursday night should not just be pinned on Giguere. While Wilson admitted his veteran goalie might have wanted one or two of those goals back, the remainder of the team was flat as well, a disappointing effort against a team below them in the standings.

Besides, if you don’t score, it’s tough to place all the blame on the goalie, Wilson correctly noted.

While that was a logical stance, the coach was still peppered with questions about his decision to go with Giguere over rookie James Reimer, who had started 13 consecutive games heading into the game on Thursday.

One of those contests was an impressive 3-1 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes on Wednesday in Raleigh, a game in which Reimer made 36 saves, many spectacular.

After that win, Wilson became irked when asked if Reimer was becoming fatigued.

“I’m sick of hearing that,” Wilson snapped at the time. “(Cam Ward) has played I don’t know how many games, 63 games. He’s not tired, but Reimer is?

“If I don’t play Reimer, I’m an idiot, so let’s leave that rest. Reims isn’t tired.”

Going with that logic, then, why play Giguere?

And, if you want to sit Reimer for a game, why not put young Jonas Gustavsson in there? Gustavsson, after all, will be in the Leafs organization next season. Giguere won’t.

According to Wilson, the answer is simple.

“We’ve watched Jiggy for 10, 15 years in the league,” he said after the loss to the Panthers. “This was about trying to make the playoffs.”

Whether you agree with Wilson’s logic or not, cut him some slack on this point: Management decided days ago that Giguere was going to play one of the two games on this Southeast Division trip.

“(Reimer) had a lot of rubber (versus) Carolina,” Wilson said. “They attempted almost 90 shots ... If we don’t play well in front of (Reimer tonight) you don’t want to drain the tank.

“Jiggy was ready to go.”

Giguere agreed.

“I just wish I would have felt better,” he said. “Overall there was some good parts and parts I wish I could get back.”

All the while, Reimer sat up in the press box, watching Giguere start and Gustavsson back up.

“Ron decided it would be good to let my body rest,” Reimer said, insisting he was not hurt.

Goals by Sergei Samsonov, Stephen Weiss and Mike Santorelli in the second period pretty much doomed Toronto, leaving the Leafs to try to regroup heading into a home date against Tomas Kaberle and the Boston Bruins at the Air Canada Centre on Saturday night.

While Wilson-bashing at times has become a national sport in Toronto, this loss should be on the shoulders of the players, not just the coach. As Clarke MacArthur correctly summed up: “We took those guys too lightly.”

If you can’t even score once on a team’s backup - in this case, Scott Clemmensen - you have no excuses.

As a result, with just 10 games remaining on the schedule, the Leafs find themselves tied with the Atlanta Thrashers for 10th with 72 points. Ninth-place Carolina has 74 while the Buffalo Sabres hold the eighth and final eastern conference playoff slot with 76.

Any way you look at it, this was an opportunity lost by an entire team, not just the veteran goalie and his coach.


Videos

Photos