SUNRISE, FLA. - As Randy Carlyle candidly was telling reporters outside the Maple Leafs dressing room how his team had just “self-destructed,” you could hear the home fans outside mocking Toronto supporters by singing “Hey, hey, hey, goodbye.”
Can it get any lower for the Maple Leafs organization than being ridiculed by Florida Panther spectators?
And were you listening, Brian Burke?
Because this, yet another lost season, has become totally unacceptable.
Who would have ever thought the Leafs would become the whipping boys of the one-time sad-sack Panthers? Or that the Leafs would be swept 4-0 in this season series after the Panthers pulled out the brooms in a 5-2 victory on Tuesday night?
Or that the Leafs would go 27 months without recording a victory at the BankAtlantic Center, a streak of futility that dates back to the latter stages of 2009?
And here’s the most alarming revelation of them all.
Who in their wildest dreams could have envisioned a scenario in which the Leafs would be the only NHL team that has not made the playoffs since the ugly lockout of 2004-05?
Yes, the Columbus Blue Jackets have made it in that time. So have the Minnesota Wild. Even the Atlanta Thrashers did it before they packed up and headed to Winnipeg.
Indeed, heading into the 2011-12 season, the Leafs and Panthers were the two teams who had not enjoyed a taste of post-season hockey since that forgettable labour dispute.
Now the Panthers, with 79 points, appear on the cusp of making it. Barring a miracle, the Leafs will not.
How brutal is that?
Toronto’s loss, coupled with Washington’s 5-4 shootout win, now leaves the Leafs 10 points behind the Caps for the eighth and final playoff spot in the east with just 12 games remaining on the schedule.
Seems hopeless right? And with good reason.
Yet, there was Burke earlier in the day, speaking at the GMs’ meetings in nearby Boca Raton claiming his team’s playoff hopes were not dead.
Isn’t that like the captain of the Titanic saying the ship was still afloat despite the fact there was a huge hole in the bottom of it?
“We’re still in this thing,” Burke said. “We’re still alive. As long as you’re alive, you’ve got to fight and try and win every game. We need some regulation wins.”
Six hours later, the only thing Leafs fans saw was another regulation loss. Whatever the case, Burke claimed tanking is not an option.
“When you’re out of it, your job doesn’t change,” he said. “If you’re eliminated, your job is still to be a factor in the race and beat teams and effect the outcomes for the other teams.
“Nothing is going to change for us. We’re going to try and win every game.”
At least they scored in this one. That’s a start.
When Tyler Bozak finally beat Jose Theodore at 19:02 of the second period to narrow the Panthers lead to 2-1, the entire Maple Leafs bench erupted as if the team had just won the Stanley Cup.
OK, maybe that’s stretching things a bit. We’re quite aware about that 1967 thing, thank you very much.
Of course, these days, just scoring a goal must almost feel like hoisting Lord Stanley’s battered mug for the Leafs.
When Bozak drained a juicy rebound, it ended Toronto’s scoreless streak at 196 minutes, 26 seconds. In other words, they had played more than three hours of hockey without beating an opposing goalie until Bozak hit the back of the net.
Having coached this bunch for just six games, Carlyle is getting a first-hand look at the warts plaguing this roster. And he’s not afraid to call out his team about it.
“We didn’t play to the level that we are capable,” said Carlyle, adding that the numerous penalties his team took in the offensive zone was “unacceptable.”
“We have to be accountable.”
That goes for every person in the organization, starting with Burke.
Because being on the verge of becoming the lone NHL team in the post-lockout era to still not reach the post-season is simply ridiculous.
REIMER: ‘I FELT PRETTY GOOD’
With his arms tightly folded, James Reimer sat in his cubicle for several minutes with a huge frown on his face.
Making his first start in seven games, Reimer and the Maple Leafs had just been drubbed 5-2 by the Florida Panthers, extending their alarming free fall to 2-13-2.
Coach Randy Carlyle had said Reimer had looked “nervous” early on, adding that the five goals given up by his team simply were too many.
Told about Carlyle’s analysis, Reimer responded candidly.
“Obviously he’s a sharp coach,” the struggling goalie said. “He knows what he sees. But I thought I felt pretty good.”
After Reimer was beaten in the game’s first minute, the Maple Leafs were never able to claw their way back to even terms.
Even so, the kid from rural Manitoba, a stand-up guy inside the room, was not making any excuses when asked what the Leafs needed to do from here on in.
“It depends what type of person you are,” he said. “You can feel sorry for yourself. Or you can get up the next day and work your butt off.”
Knowing Reimer, count on it being the latter.