Looking back on the past 7 days of hockey, the journey of the Leafs has been eerily similar to that of the Rebel Alliance in Star Wars. At first, they faced down what seemed to be insurmountable odds; the Rebels the Galatic Empire with their Death Star, the Leafs with the 5 best teams in the Eastern Conference in succession.
But the youth on each fight fought back hard for an unthinkable and stunning victory. Luke blew up the Death Star and Nazem Kadri did this to Tim Thomas. People were stunned that the Leafs could beat the Bruins and Capitals back to back, but then came the second act of their story and with it came the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Knowing that given half a chance – this young Leafs team could be dangerous, neither opponent showed any mercy. Just like with the destruction of the Hoth base and the subsequent battle at Cloud City, the Leafs have found themselves soundly beaten by superior opponents who showed them no mercy.
As Luke lost his hand, Mike Komisarek injured his and will be out for the next week at least while he nurses it back to health. But now comes the culmination of the Leafs journey through Eastern Conference Hell Week, the final battle agains the Emperor of the Dark Side himself; the Montreal Canadiens.
If they want a victory tonight, they’ll have to take advantage of a Wookie just like Han Solo, and let Keith Aulie manhandle the diminutie Habs forwards; a proper stand in for the Ewoks of Endor.
So what will be the outcome of the game tonight? With the Emperor be thrown into a seemingly bottomless pit, or will the Rebel fleet be crushed by the Empire?
Montreal enters this game on the tail end of a back to back that saw them easily handled by the Detroit Red Wings to the tune of a 4-2 loss last night. Carey Price looked human for once posting a .903 sv% on the night. All fingers point to him getting the start again tonight so hopefully he’ll be a bit fatigued and not on his A game which, this season, is among the best.
Unlike the other teams Toronto has faced this past week, Montreal’s offense is very balanced; 4 players are tied for the team lead with 9 goals and their 3rd liners are contributing as well.
The defense is not what it once was with Andrei Markov out for the season, but their veteran players have stepped up in his absense and provided solid, but not flashy, work from the blueline all season. After sitting for three straight games, rookie pest PK Subban played last night in Detroit, earning 2 penalty minutees, and will more than likely suit up tonight.
Because he plays 20+ minutes when in the lineup and is a hothead, the Leafs have to take advantage of this cockiness and goad him into taking penalties to throw him off his game. He, like his teammates, won’t fight however, so Colton Orr needs to be careful when he’s on the ice and not throw the gloves first with any of the cowardly Habs player.
On the other side of the red line, the forward corps of the Leafs has remained surprisingly intact as of late, so expect the Wilson to roll out the same lines as last game. Back on defense it’s a different story as the Mike Komisarek injury somehow got Brett "Still hasn’t been on the ice for a Leafs goal" Lebda into the lineup over Gunnarsson on Thursday.
If Wilson has a brain, he’ll sit Lebda for Gunnar but I wouldn’t hold my breath on this. Despite being nearly Toskalaeque this season with a .890sv%, it seems as though J.S. Giguere will get the start in place of a fatigued Jonas Gustavsson. Wilson really mishandle the Monster during Giguere’s injury and overplayed him. Reimer should have gotten at least one start during his time here, but alas he didn’t and Gus suffered for it.
On the season, the two teams sit at 1 and 1 with tonight being the rubber match. Can the Leafs squeak out a win and emerege with 6 out of a possible 10 Hell Week points? If so, it would say mountains about the heart of this young Leafs team and set themselves up for a slow crawl out of the Eastern Conference basement.
Here’s hoping for a win.