LEAFS AND PACEMAKERS DON'T MIX

Steve Lansky
December 06 2010 08:50PM

With apologies to the 1980 Cleveland Browns and 1967 Boston Red Sox, it looks like it’s time to anoint the 2010-11 Toronto Maple Leafs the NHL's “Kardiac Kids.” If you walked away early from the games Saturday against Boston and Monday night in Washington, you missed the two best Leafs’ finishes of the season. The fact that they won both games is exciting, but they showed a huge amount of character both times – and that’s something that has been most certainly lacking in a massive number of Leafs’ games this season.

In 1980, with Brian Sipe taking the snaps, the Cleveland Browns won (and lost) several games with very little time left on the clock. They earned the Kardiac Kids nickname. Those Browns lost an AFC Divisional Playoff Game at “The Mistake by the Lake” – Cleveland Stadium – to the Oakland Raiders. The 1967 Red Sox went to the World Series – but lost to Bob Gibson’s St. Louis Cardinals – after coming back in an inordinate number of regular season games. By all accounts, Leafs’ fans do not expect a playoff opportunity in April 2011. But an honest effort every single game should be demanded.

In that respect, a corner may have been turned. Assistant GM Dave Nonis gave Ron Wilson’s charges a bit of a motivational pep-talk on Friday at practice. It seems something may have sunk in. And it may have really sunk in with Mikhail Grabovski. Not that Grabo is having a bad season, but someone with that much pure offensive talent MUST shoot the puck more.

He did in Washington. A blast from the high slot started the Leafs’ comeback in the third. And then that ridiculously athletic, highlight-reel, shootout-goal-of-the-year won it for Toronto. A guy with a shot like that has to use it. Everywhere he can. Whenever he can. Ron Wilson may want to get him more than the 2:41 of power-play time he had in D.C.

And, either way, the Washington comeback is just not possible without Jonas “Confidence-out-the-Wazoo” Gustavsson. After his less-than-stellar outing last week against the Oilers, The Monster did all he needed to do in Washington, including a game-saving shootout stops on Alex Ovechkin, Mathieu Perreault and Alexander Semin. Tough for the Leafs to lose a shootout when their guy doesn’t let any in.

A constant barometer of any winning team is their success rate in one-goal games. The Leafs have just bagged two of those in three days. After the game, Rogers Sportsnet’s Nick Kypreos said that the Leafs engineered both comebacks because, late in the game, Toronto is less uptight when it’s trailing.

That may be the case, but no team can succeed making a living as the Kardiac Kids. Right now, with Grabovski hopefully shooting more, and The Monster stoning the opposition, the Leafs need to transition into the “Play-with-a-Lead Kids.” Wednesday, against Sid the Kid, would be a good time to start.

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Steve Lansky's first exposure to the game was at storied Maple Leaf Gardens, running downstairs at the end of every period just to watch the great Dave Keon walk off the ice to the room. A decade later, while he was still in high school, Oilers' head coach Glen Sather asked Lansky, "Hey, how'd you like to be our team statistician?" In 1983, at the age of 22, Lansky became the youngest producer in the history of CBC's Hockey Night in Canada, giving him a front-row seat to the Edmonton Oilers' dynasty. Lansky also helped launch Rogers Sportsnet's fledgling hockey coverage when the network made its début in 1998. You can follow him at bigmouthsports.com and at twitter.com/bigmouthsports
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