Leafs must be great to earn playoff spot
April, 3, 2014
By Pierre LeBrun | ESPN.com
TORONTO -- On a night full of drama, with an injury to Toronto's top goaltender and a blown third-period lead drudging up ugly memories of last spring, the final result was the Toronto Maple Leafs living to see another day.
Take a breath, Leaf Nation.
Nazem Kadri's overtime goal handed the Maple Leafs a 4-3 win over the powerhouse Boston Bruins, keeping Toronto's slim playoff hopes alive.
But did the gritty victory come at too big a price? Jonathan Bernier, who has saved this team's bacon on so many nights this season, left the game with what sure looked like a fairly serious injury, unable to put any weight on his left leg as he exited with the help of a trainer.
This is the same Bernier whose five-game absence because of a groin injury in late March ignited a season-turning, perhaps season-ruining, eight-game losing streak that dragged the Leafs down the standings and out of a playoff spot.
Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said the team would not know the severity of his goalie’s "lower body" injury until an MRI exam was performed Friday.
But it didn't look good.
Give James Reimer some props. The much-maligned backup was cool under pressure (stopping 10 of 11 shots) despite giving up the tying goal to Patrice Bergeron.
"He gave us a chance, good for him, we needed that and he needed that," Carlyle said. "It's great."
Graig Abel/Getty ImagesJonathan Bernier left the game with a lower-body injury and will have and MRI on Friday.
Reimer will need to be great over the Leafs' final four regular-season games for Toronto to pull this off.
The Leafs got a win over the Eastern Conference-leading Bruins on this night, which probably wasn't predicted by many. It kept Toronto alive, albeit still a long shot to make the playoffs.
Still a long shot because those pesky Columbus Blue Jackets (how do you not love that hard-working bunch?) won again Thursday night in Philadelphia to remain a point ahead of the Leafs for the final wild-cart spot in the Eastern Conference. Columbus also still has two games in hand on Toronto.
Wonder if Toronto falls a point or two short behind Columbus if the Leafs will look back to losing all three games to the Jackets this season, all in regulation, by a combined score of 13-3. Ouch.
Of interest, both the Jackets (85 points) and Maple Leafs (84 points) play their final three games of the regular season next week on the road, and both clubs play each of the Florida teams within that set.
Of course, Columbus perhaps is looking up to being only two points behind the Flyers for the No. 3 seed in the Metropolitan Division rather than being so focused on the wild-card spot.
For Toronto, there is no other way in. It's wild card or bust, and it says here that the Leafs have to at least get seven out of those eight remaining points on the line to get in. Remember that the Jackets hold the ROW (regulation and overtime wins) tiebreaker on the Leafs, as does Detroit (86 points), the Red Wings sitting in the other wild-card spot and not looking as if they will relinquish it.
The Leafs are left hoping playing six games in nine days to end the season will somehow be too daunting a task for the Jackets.
In other words, the Leafs need help.
On this night, Toronto helped itself with a spirited effort against the best team in the East.
"We talked about it this morning, about the team we were playing, we're very familiar with them and there's obviously the rivalry," said Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf.
"Tonight we showed a lot of resilience to win that game in overtime."
Well, you can imagine what the 19,609 fans at Air Canada Centre were thinking after the Bruins erased a 3-1 Leafs lead with a pair of third-period goals, Boston outshooting the home team 17-5 in the third and totally dominating; all the while memories of Game 7 from last spring springing to life for Leafs fans.
Instead though, Kadri's OT goal kept those playoff ghosts from TD Garden locked in the closet.
A nervy victory, but two straight, and Toronto can still breathe.
"That's all we're trying to do, keep controlling what we can control," said Leafs winger James Van Riemsdyk, who tallied his 30th goal of the season Thursday night. "That first win against Calgary let us exhale a little bit and gave us back some of that confidence that we can close games out."
The Bruins? They probably deserved a better fate in back-to-back nights, outplaying both Detroit and Toronto for large stretches but still coming up with a pair of losses.
It doesn't really matter at this point, the Bruins are locked into first in the East, but this is a proud bunch that accepts losing like it's the plague.
"We have to execute better, especially in our own zone," said Bergeron, again sensational on this night while collecting a goal and an assist. "We have to control the puck and make the simple play. We’re hesitating at times.
"We were up and down tonight and we can't do that."
Yeesh, lofty standards I guess.
Interestingly though, if the Leafs somehow beat the odds and make the postseason, Boston probably would get Toronto in the opening round for a second year in a row.
"They have a lot of offense, it's always a battle against them," Bergeron said of the Leafs. "They stayed resilient tonight. But we got to be better."
No, Toronto has to be better. But Thursday night was at least a step in that direction.