Leafs, Habs game a case of hapless vs. hopeless

Steve Simmons

, Last Updated: 10:51 PM ET

On one night for everything, in a season going nowhere, all of the Maple Leafs warts were on display.

All of them exposing the very worst of a barely average hockey club.

On one night for everything, in a season going nowhere, all of the Montreal Canadiens warts were on display.

All of them exposing the very worst of a barely average hockey club.

This is what it came down to last night. This wasn't good vs. evil or English vs. French: This wasn't old time hockey or anything that jogged anybody's memory of a rivalry that once was.

This was hapless vs. hopeless, and occasionally hopeless vs. hapless. You can choose which team played what role. It truly depended on the moment, the occasion, the period of play.

For the Maple Leafs, though, the game they had to win was theirs - and then it wasn't - then it was.

It was no different for the Canadiens, who had a trip to the playoffs in the second period, until they lost their minds and their composure all at once.

Then it became anybody's game - seemingly played by anybody.

Andrew Raycroft, who spent his first Toronto season forever searching for credibility, undermined himself once again, unable to stand up and deliver when it mattered the most.

Raycroft, who came to Toronto after one great and one terrible National Hockey League season was both throughout the season, but only terrible at the Air Canada Centre in a game the Leafs had to win to having any hope of advancing to the playoffs.

Raycroft, as he has done before, only provided hope for the opponent, in this case the equally inept Montreal Canadiens.

With the Leafs absolutely dominant early and the Canadiens looking lost, Toronto took a 3-1 early in the second period.

That should have been enough to preserve a win - at least for a competent team with competent goaltending it should be.

Then Raycroft muffed on what was little more than a flick shot off Michael Ryder's stick, just 36 seconds after Alex Steen made it 3-1 Leafs and the game was again in doubt.

The Raycroft miss all but deflated the Leafs, who allowed two more Ryder goals in next five minutes and 49 seconds.

When Ryder scored his third, coach Paul Maurice, who was already cringing on the bench, had seen enough. He replaced Raycroft with the barely used backup, Jean-Sebastien Aubin.

That was indication enough of two things: 1) How horrible Raycroft had played; 2) How much the goaltender had let his team down on such a large night.

Raycroft was the first of the Leafs to to wilt on a night where they were either great or horrendous, depending on the moment. Pavel Kubina, the $5 million defenceman who doesn't play like one, messed up on one goal against, spent time in the penalty box when another was scored, and once again demonstrated why his free agent signing has mystified people all season long.

In between all that, Mats Sundin couldn't score into empty nets - he isn't snakebit anymore, he's choking the life out of his stick - the Leafs weak penalty killing emerged and only after Montreal couldn't stay out of the penalty box did the Leafs pull back into the lead.

At least from the time Aubin replaced Raycroft there was a semblance of order to the Leafs play. Aubin hardly had to make a save of any consequence, which was fine, because no one is certain he would have been able to come up large.

Instead, the Leafs held onto a one-goal lead in the third period after scoring two power play goals that began with 5-on-3 situations.

When the Leafs had two more players on the ice than Montreal, they were, in fact, the better team. But the power play goals in the third also seemed to re-engergize the team.

Now, the Leafs have a win and an afternoon to learn their fate. The scary 6-5 win last night only put them in a position to let other teams decide their playoff fate this afternoon.

In light of the quality of play last night, anything else would have seemed inappropriate.

steve.simmons@sunmedia.ca


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