Leafs win -- but so what?

STEVE SIMMONS -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:36 AM ET

What began as a quiet and unemotional night at the Air Canada Centre ended in noise and fury -- all of it crazy and exciting, so much of it signifying nothing.

The so-called Maple Leafs playoff run, if you want to call it that, is over. Hope is just the name of a late comedian.

But give the wonky Leafs this much: They have become the Generalissimo Francisco Franco of the National Hockey League. They are still dead, yet so worthy of a punch-line of significance.

With the season lost and the game lost last night, the Leafs began to play hard. That's what this team does. The worse things look, the more obstinate they become.

That is what remains exasperating yet revealing and admirable about this Leafs club which flaunts with success but only when pushed first to the limits.

And last night, coach Paul Maurice was pushed to the limits. For the first time in his coaching life, about 1,300 games old, Maurice pulled his goalie in a tie game. He did so with the Leafs on the power play of a tie game and with one minute, 12 seconds to go in the third period.

He did so attempting to throw everything at the Flyers in that final minute. He did so having calculated the possibilities a day in advance.

The Leafs needed the two points, and more importantly they needed the Flyers to get none. And desperate times call for desperate measures.

"He was coming out regardless," Maurice said of Toskala. Maurice began talking about pulling Toskala long before yesterday's game. In fact, he solicited opinions from his coaching staff on the matter. The split on the staff was no better than 50-50.

Then the game started and it was there, in the back of Maurice's mind.

If necessary he was going to do it. It was just a matter of when. He thought about pulling the goalie when the Leafs trailed 3-0 but thought it was too soon. "I knew yesterday he was coming out (if we were in that situation)," Maurice said. "The game dictated when."

And if the Leafs lost on an empty-net goal, imagine the reaction around Toronto today?

"Then I'm standing up here, not feeling so fresh," the coach said.

He's still not feeling all that fresh, even with the Leafs' victory in overtime. The Leafs got the two points they desired. "The point (the Flyers) get hurts," interim general manager Cliff Fletcher said. "You get something, they get something. You would have liked a cleaner result."

Instead, another game tonight. The mathematicians will tell you there is still a chance. That must be the new math I can't seem to get my head around. There is a chance. There is also a chance that all five of the lottery tickets I purchased this week will cash in.

In the end, this is still what it's about for the Leafs. It is just about lottery time for the Leafs. If not a lottery ticket, then the least anyone could hope for is a place in the NHL Draft lottery. For that, there is still hope and possibility.

There is, in fact, a better opportunity still for the Leafs to get a lottery pick than there is for them to somehow qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs. There are 11 games to play and they need eight more points than the Flyers, who play one more game. Being tied for the final playoff spot won't be good enough -- long a shot as that is. The tiebreakers would then cancel out the Leafs, leaving them out of the playoffs and without a decent draft pick.

Now, at least, they still have a chance at one. Should they lose tonight in Philadelphia -- thus falling nine points behind the Flyers -- then it's time to shut everybody down.

Time to give Toskala a whole lot of rest. Time to get the kids more ice time. Time to do everything that doesn't look too phony in an attempt to let points pass by. Time to tank.

Unable to do what the Flyers managed a year ago -- cashing in on known players for youngsters with promise at the deadline -- the least the Leafs could do is match Philadelphia with a high-draft position. The Flyers picked second last June.

The Leafs, typically, are neither here nor there.

Soon there will be just enough time left, just enough games, to dust off Andrew Raycroft to salvage hope for the Maple Leafs future.


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