Leafs will regret the points that got away

Toronto Maple Leafs' James Reimer and Carl Gunnarsson celebrate their win against the Buffalo...

Toronto Maple Leafs' James Reimer and Carl Gunnarsson celebrate their win against the Buffalo Sabres. (REUTERS/Mike Cassese)

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 6:52 PM ET

TORONTO - Until the math says otherwise, Clarke MacArthur says he will continue to believe in miracles.

The Leafs forward will continue to believe that his team can somehow win its final five games — beginning with a date in Boston on Thursday night — and squeak into the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

But in the more likely event that the team falls short, despite an impressive late-season resurgence, MacArthur doesn’t want to have the same regrets he’s feeling right now. And the first-year forward, who has been a surprise offensive producer for the team, believes he has the answer.

“Whether we make it or not, the biggest thing for me is not to be in this situation again,” MacArthur said following Wednesday’s practice at the MasterCard Centre. “Be a team where you are fighting to get to fifth or sixth place rather than trying to sneak in.

“I think everyone in here feels that way. Whatever happens this year, if we don’t make it, it’s going to burn because we put in a good effort in the second half and our record shows it. But if we don’t make it, it will be because we had too much ground to make up.”

As you might expect after Tuesday’s big 4-3 win over the Buffalo Sabres, the Leafs were in a buoyant mood on Wednesday, despite the grim prospect of making up a minimum of five points over their final five games.

“We may run out of time here before the end and not make the playoffs,” Leafs coach Ron Wilson said. “But we’ve certainly got a lot of things to build on.”

When the inevitable happens sometime over the next week or so, the Leafs will once again be left to ponder the ones that got away through a season that point-wise may end up being their best in the past four but ultimately will yield a too familiar result.

Easy on the e-mail outrage and Twitter tantrums for a minute, we get it: Every team in the league can play the “ifs and buts” game and you could go the other way with the Leafs as well.

But as MacArthur hinted on Wednesday, no matter how encouraging the finish has been, there were enough tough losses to create some off-season regrets. Here’s a chronological look at 10 games in which valuable points were lost, currency that the team could desperately use in its last handful of games.

November 2

Sens 3, Leafs 2

After going more than 167 minutes without a goal, the Leafs finally put one past the Sens, but it wasn’t enough. With a third consecutive loss and six of seven, basically whatever good had accumulated from the hot start was now wasted. Worse yet, captain Dion Phaneuf suffered a nasty gash on his leg that would require major surgery and keep him out of the lineup for 16 games. Whether the minute-eating defenceman returned to early is up for debate, but what is not is the fact that it took him at least another dozen games to return to top form.

November 6

Sabres 3, Leafs 2

The Leafs had a chance to make a statement against a division rival that had owned them over recent seasons, holding a 2-1 lead until late in the third. With goaltender Jonas Enroth out for the extra attacker, Jochen Hecht scored for the Sabres and Tyler Ennis won it with a shootout goal.

November 13

Canucks 5, Leafs 3

The Leafs jumped out to a 2-0 lead but gradually let the Canucks back into it. A bad goal by Mason Raymond in the third that went right through J-S Giguere’s legs proved to be the winner and the nasty November continued for the Leafs.

November 20

Habs 2, Leafs 0: This one was never really close, but we highlight it because it is illustrative of the team’s problems during the season. Goal-scoring has lacked consistency from start to finish for the Leafs, who have been shut out a ridiculous 11 times.

November 30

Lightning 4, Leafs 3

Of all the tough losses and disappointments, this one will be among those that sting the most.

The Leafs looked poised to squeak out a regulation-time win only to see the Air Canada Centre deflate when Simon Gagne tied it up with 8.7 seconds remaining in regulation time. Gagne was the hero/villain in overtime as the Leafs settled with a single point that had to smell like a devastating loss.

December 2

Oilers 5, Leafs 0

Among the more impressive traits of this season’s resilient team was the fact that there weren’t many nights that the Leafs didn’t at least put in at least a credible effort. This was not one of them, however. The lowly Oilers came in and destroyed the Leafs, who were shut out for the sixth time in a 16-game stretch and lost for the 16th time out of 20, virtually guaranteeing that a massive rally would be necessary for the playoffs to be a possibility.

January 15

Flames 2, Leafs 1

The Leafs almost swiped a pair of points of their own when Mikhail Grabovski tied it at 1-1 with 12.4 seconds remaining. But when Tyler Bozak hit the post on a shorthanded breakaway in overtime and the Flames got the extra point with a shootout win.

February 19

Sens 1, Leafs 0

Another one of those need-to-win games against a struggling opponent — the Sens had won just twice in their previous 15 — and the Leafs failed to take advantage as the offence went missing once again.

February 27

Thrashers 3, Leafs 2

The Leafs led 3-0 entering the third period and could taste the prospect of moving to within three points of eighth in the Conference. But when James Reimer left in the second period, J-S Giguere was shaky in relief. By now you can almost guess the result: A Thrashers team that had lost 16 of 19 entering the contest, tied it up in the third and swiped the extra point in overtime.

March 14

Lightning 6, Leafs 2

As the Leafs were gearing up for a spirited push, feisty forward Colby Armstrong suffered a broken foot to end his season. Sure it wasn’t a close game, but it was the third time Armstrong suffered an injury that took him out of the lineup for multiple games. With the first-year Leaf in the lineup, the team had a 25-19-6 record. Without him, it dipped to 10-13-4.


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