Leafs just not good enough

STEVE SIMMONS -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 2:07 PM ET


 In the place where only players are allowed, in the private area of the Maple Leafs dressing room, Tie Domi leaned hard against a mirror, seemingly frozen in time, his hands buried in his face.

 His body still quivering. His eyes moist. One player's unspoken language saying much about defeat, of another playoff season gone wrong.

 "I really thought it would be a storybook ending," Domi whispered. "Unfortunately, the ending got away."

 The dismantling of the Maple Leafs begins this morning. Exactly who is left standing and who is left employed when the autopsy is complete is open to interpretation.

 The very notion that this was a team capable of winning the Stanley Cup seems almost absurd now. The players believed it. The coaches believed it. The rabid fans, well, they always believe it.

 Everything was in place except performance. That itself was torn to disappointing pieces, first by the Ottawa Senators, then by the Philadelphia Flyers, and worse, in the end, by the Maple Leafs themselves.

 "I don't think we played our best hockey," Gary Roberts said. "We didn't play committed enough. It's tough. I thought we had a real good chance."

 Everybody thought that.

 FLAWS REVEALED

 But little by little the flaws in the Leafs, as a team and as individuals, were revealed. One afternoon, Bryan McCabe gave it away. Last night in overtime, Brian Leetch made a poor read. When your top players aren't your top players, when Ed Belfour allows nine goals on the last 43 shots of the series, a second-round defeat isn't only expected, it is certain.

 "It's a pretty sickening feeling," said Leetch, who came to Toronto with hopes of having his first legitimate playoff run in a decade. "We're like a lot of teams. It's close. You need to do it on the ice.

 "We feel like were good enough but got beat in the end."

 Good enough to get beaten by the Flyers, who won three games at home and collapsed just long enough last night to extend Game 6 to overtime.

 The very hands Domi used to cover his face after it was over could have been used to win the game with 70 seconds remaining in the third period. The opportunity was there, right on the stick on the Leafs most ambitious post-season player, but Robert Esche made the save, his largest of the series.

 COME UP SHORT

 And the Leafs were defeated this year by Esche. Last year it was Roman Cechmanek. The year before by Arturs Irbe. Not exactly a murderers row of goaltenders.

 The Leafs, almost every year have come up short, or hurt, losing their heads or their hands or their minds in the process. Always losing something. A piece forever missing.

 "When you have those hopes and dreams, like your fans do, it seems to be devastating now," coach Pat Quinn said, his own future certain to become an issue for both general manager John Ferguson and the radio call-in-shows. "You forget all the good things your team has done because you focus on the fact that you don't have to come to work tomorrow."

 You forget the reality that the Leafs played 13 playoff games, won just six, were outplayed in probably nine, and rarely were commanding. Not at any time looking like a team that could actually win the Stanley Cup no matter what anyone believed.

 "I don't know what to say," captain Mats Sundin said, too used to standing at the end of a season with nothing to say. "I felt we had a good enough team but fell short ... You wonder what could have been."

 This is how all the Quinn seasons end in Toronto, wondering if there wasn't more. With hands buried in faces. And this morning the hand-wringing begins once again.


Videos

Photos