Leafs' troubles began last fall

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:12 PM ET

TORONTO - Clarke MacArthur says he’s running out of things in his home to smash.

Tim Brent had almost an entire section of well-meaning but equally frustrated Blue Jays fans keep him updated on the out-of-town scores on Sunday.

And Ron Wilson tried to take his mind off the math by going to the movies.

With desperate need for help from elsewhere as they sit on the precipice of elimination, the Maple Leafs are frustrated at the position they’ve put themselves in.

Regrets? Yes, they certainly have a few.

For if they’ve learned one thing over the past few weeks, it is that even with a superb record and determined play that is giving even the best teams in the NHL fits, the damage was done in late October and early November.

“It’s a lesson you obviously don’t want to learn, but as far as the young guys in our room, they’ll remember for seasons going forward that every game, whether it’s November or April, they all seem to mean so much,” Brent said following the team’s practice at the MasterCard Centre in advance of Tuesday’s home date against the Washington Capitals.

“I keep going back to that slide we had in November: The teams that make the playoffs never go on the eight-game losing streaks. You go .500 in those instead of 0-and-eight, right now we’re worrying about who we play in the first round, not whether we will get in or not.”

The Leafs are putting up a brave face and hoping for a miracle, which is about what it will take for them to sneak into the playoffs for the first time in six seasons.

With 84 points and three games LEFT, the Leafs trail ninth-place Carolina by three, the eighth-place Sabres by six and the seventh-place Rangers ­— who the Leafs can no longer catch — by seven.

Simply put, the Leafs need to win three of their remaining games — starting with the Caps who are playing for the top seed in the Eastern Conference — while needing the three above them to lose out.

Though there has been a tendency by management to dismiss what happened in that 0-6-2 run from Oct. 28 to Nov. 13 because there has been yet another makeover, the players know better.

Like many of his teammates, MacArthur used his day off Sunday to attend the Jays-Twins game at the Rogers Centre, hoping to get some good news from Philadelphia where the Leafs needed the Flyers to win in regulation. But New York won in a shootout and they beat Boston last night. Strike one.

Strike two came early Sunday evening when the other two teams the Leafs are chasing, Carolina and Buffalo, went to overtime, where a Sabres victory put them in seventh place at the time.

Strike three hasn’t arrived yet, but it’s getting near.

“Take away those 10 or 12 games in November and we’re fighting for much more than eighth spot,” said MacArthur, who joked that he’s about to cancel his NHL pay-per-view package. “I look at our record over the last month and we can’t gain a point with that record? That’s unbelievable. You do that in the middle of the season, you make up 10 points maybe.

“It’s a positive thing that our team is doing right now, but it’s real frustrating. It’s been going on for three weeks at this point, I don’t really have much left to break at my place.”

The upside, of course, is that since the beginning of January, the Leafs’ 24-13-6 record is among the best of the league and arguably worthy of a better fate.

“I feel bad that our guys don’t seem to be getting rewarded for all their hard work,” Leafs coach Ron Wilsons said. “They believe they can do it and still do.

“We can’t control what happens elsewhere, but the future is obviously bright if we can keep this group together and add a few pieces here and there, we’re going to be in pretty good shape.”

In the meantime, doing nothing but winning while running out of games, is a hard lesson learned.

“Everybody in here, we all kind of hold our breath for every Buffalo, Carolina or New York Rangers game,” Brent said. “It’s terrible to have to sit there and hope and have no control whatsoever.

“As much of a pain as that is, it’s a lesson a lot of guys will take from this year and make sure we are not in the same spot again.”


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