TORONTO - Dion Phaneuf’s usual glower didn’t tell the whole story on Tuesday night.
The Maple Leafs captain will have another early spring to ponder following the Leafs’ 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals.
In his six NHL seasons, Phaneuf has been watching the post-season twice and in the other four, with the Calgary Flames, did not advance past the first round.
“Next to losing in the playoffs, for me personally, it is probably the worst feeling in hockey,” Phaneuf said after the Leafs’ post-season hopes officially died. “Right now, (the solid play for a few months) doesn’t make it any better. As players, we play to play in the playoffs. We play to try to win the Stanley Cup and when you are eliminated from that opportunity, it does not feel very good.”
Forward Joffrey Lupul tipped his hat to the Buffalo Sabres, whose win against the Tampa Bay Lightning pushed the Leafs aside, and the New York Rangers, who are in eighth place in the Eastern Conference.
“It has been so much fun to be in playoff-type games,” Lupul said. “Over an 82-game season, teams that deserve to get in, they get in. We have to remember that for next year. As well as we played, the Rangers and Buffalo deserve to get in.”
Goaltender James Reimer had a tender moment in a dressing room otherwise devoid of players after the game. Reporters watched as Reimer signed a couple of autographs for 7-year-old Megan Cross, who is fighting cancer and recently had a bone marrow transplant.
“That’s life right there,” Reimer said. “We’re playing a game, and to see how excited they are, that’s the fun part.”
The Leafs have two games left — in New Jersey on Wednesday night versus the Devils and Saturday night at home against the Montreal Canadiens. Expect a strong effort no matter what the standings say, Reimer indicated.
“It would be a real shame if we let everything we accomplished just slide away because some other teams won,” Reimer said. “We have to play like we are a playoff team.”