No excuse for Leafs' play

Mikhail Grabovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs is hit by Alexei Emelin of the Montreal Canadiens in...

Mikhail Grabovski of the Toronto Maple Leafs is hit by Alexei Emelin of the Montreal Canadiens in the third period of NHL Hockey action at the Air Canada Centre, in Toronto, February 11 2012. (DAVE ABEL/QMI Agency)

Steve Buffery, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:18 AM ET

TORONTO - Saturday night games between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are often magical occasions. But this Saturday’s game was about as magical as a magician pulling a used Kleenex out of his hat.

Which is a sad commentary on the Maple Leafs.

Yes, the Leafs outshot the Habs, 32-18, and Montreal goaltender Carey Price was solid, but there was a surprisingly lack of desperation on the Leafs behalf, which is inexcusable given that the Leafs are fighting for a playoff spot (for the first time since 2004) and could have put a choke hold of sorts on the Canadiens.

A win against the Habs, who rode their NHL best penalty kill to a 5-0 win on Mats Sundin Night, would have put 11 points between the two rivals in the fight for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

You want to make the playoffs? You have to bury a team like the Habs, a team short on depth, rife with controversy, a below .500 team. You especially have to bury a team like that at home.

The Leafs were rested, and should have been riding the emotion from Sundin’s big night. Instead, they came out of the gate plodding, allowing Price to find his groove with a series of long, saveable shots, and by the second period, when the Canadiens beat James Reimer for four straight goals, they were playing right into Montreal’s hands.

When a team is at home and fighting to make the post-season for the first time since 2004, you have to show the visiting side who’s boss in your own rink, especially when the visitors are not a very big or tough team. Yet it was the Habs who out-muscled the Leafs, out-hitting Toronto, 36-25. The only Toronto forwards who played with a real edge was the fourth-line of David Steckel, Darryl Boyce and Mike Brown. Brown twice tried to get Montreal defenceman P.K. Subban to drop the gloves (to no avail).

There’s no excuse for an effort like that. Yeah, a goalie can get hot and your power play can misfire, but to be pushed around in your own rink by a smaller opponent is a sign that something is awry.

A night that started with a wonderful tribute to Sundin, who was there with his wife and parents and many of his former teammates, ended with the fans booing a half-hearted power play in the second. And the boos continued off and on for the rest of the game.

If they Leafs miss the playoffs this season, Saturday’s game might be remembered as the turning point of the year, for the wrong seasons. The Leafs now head to western Canada for three straight road games. A formidable challenge.

The worst part of it was, some of Ron Wilson’s players looked totally disinterested. When third line centre Tim Connolly took a slashing penalty in the second period, which enabled the Canadiens’ to jump into a 3-0 lead, my colleague Lance Hornby suggested that Connolly took the penalty to get his name on the scoresheet (given that he hadn’t done much of anything else). Wilson might want to consider benching a guy such as Connolly, who has zero points in his last three games and one point in his last 10, to send a message.

Not to blame Connolly for all of Toronto’s ills. But the team’s so-called prize free-agent signing last summer seems to playing with a marked indifference, and that can only rub off on the younger players.

“He’s struggling. And that’s something I’ve we’ve got to figure out,” said Wilson. “But he’s playing with two other guys (Matthew Lombardi and Joey Crabb) who have to help get him going as well. That’s what we’re trying to crack here.”

Maybe you chalk out the Leafs’ lack of to divine intervention.

A report surfaced prior to the game that the Archdiocese of Montreal took out a newspaper ad out asking the Canadiens’ faithful to pray for the team. Makes you wonder why the Anglican Church, or one of the other major Protestant churches (given their historic significance in Toronto and Ontario) didn’t think of that. Of course, any Anglican advertisement (and I point his out as someone who was forced to attend quite a few Anglican services) would probably include an amendment not to cheer too loud or get overly emotional. That’s the way Anglicans roll.

Sadly, with the playoff battles heating up, the Leafs, who have now lost three straight, appearing to be rolling downhill.


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