The Maple Leafs brought out the anti-tank guns again Monday, to fend off fans wanting them to surrender their final three games for draft purposes.
A second straight win against Buffalo on Tuesday, coupled with a good show in season-ending games against Tampa Bay and Montreal could see the Leafs pass a couple of teams and move out of lottery pick territory. With seven non-playoff teams separated by seven points before Monday night, the subject of tanking was a sensitive one in the dressing room.
“We have way too much pride in this room to throw games for first-round picks,” declared goalie Ben Scrivens.
For all the good that losing three straight would do for Toronto’s draft positioning in June, the Washington Capitals are wildly cheering for a Leaf regulation win tomorrow to stop the Sabres’ attempt to pass the Caps for eighth.
“(The draft) is so far from everybody’s mind,” defenceman John-Michael Liles said. “When things don’t go well, every guy is fighting to make an impression for next season.
“It’s unfortunate we’re not in the playoffs, but you take some joy from the little things right now. If we can play well and get some wins, I think it affects the race. Sometimes, especially in the last little while, we’ve been squeezing our sticks too hard and you don’t have your best game. But nobody in this room is trying to lose on purpose and I’d be extremely surprised if anyone in the NHL was doing that.”
Coach Randy Carlyle understands how the fans feel, but that’s as far he goes.
“(Fans) are looking at the highest possible pick and think that would sit well with the organization,” Carlyle said. “But if you were to sell that to your hockey club, you would be going against everything you’re trying to preach about competing, earning your (job), the framework of your organization and the staples of honesty. You can’t ever bring that back. You’re pretty much admitting to yourself that you’re a fraud. That just won’t happen.”
Buffalo goaltender Ryan Miller, beaten 4-3 on Saturday, was preparing for the same Leaf effort.
“I don’t expect htey’ll lay down,” Miller told the Olean Times Herald on Monday. “They get opportunities. You just have to be a little bit smarter against them, frustrate them. I think that’s what other teams have been able to do. We definitely need to take a different approach (than Saturday).”