The human shoulder is an amazing device. Mikhail Grabovski has decided to use his to carry his business associates. On Tuesday, Maple Leafs’ fans realized something that, apparently, the National Hockey League didn’t. This season, Grabovski – and his shoulders – are all-stars. Since December 6th, Grabovski has done something that doesn’t happen a lot in professional sports but, when it does, it’s magnificent to watch. Grabovski has thrown an entire team on his back and said, “Let’s go, boys. I’m leading us to victory.” And, what’s made even more of a difference lately, is that his teammates have decided to use their shoulders too.
Beginning on that magical Monday night in December – a 5-4 overtime win against Washington, in which Grabovski scored the acrobatic shootout winner – Grabovski has played fifteen games. He has scored twelve times. He has not gone two straight games without a goal. The Leafs have won eight of those games. And, now, Grabovski’s worth ethic has begun to rub off.
Kris Versteeg, who sucked mightily in October, has turned on his personal jets. I wasn’t sure he had any. Since that December night, Versteeg has not gone two games without at least one point. He’s not a goal-scoring machine, but his efforts are putting him more and more at the forefront of the Leafs’ attack. He’s getting chances and creating them.
Impressed by him or not (I choose not), even Phil Kessel is starting to find his offensive groove. His tough-angle goal in Los Angeles on Monday night gave the Leafs a two-to-one lead. It was the pivotal score in the Leafs’ win. And, with these non-Grabovskis scoring, it gives the Leafs a balanced attack which, of course, is much more difficult to defend against.
NHL history is rife with players throwing their teams on their backs and lugging them to victory. Rookie Dino Ciccarelli took the 1981 Minnesota North Stars all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. Mark Messier kept the Rangers afloat on their way to the 1994 Stanley Cup. Wayne Gretzky carried the Oilers in virtually every game they played. (This is not an exaggeration).
I’m not saying that Grabovski’s heroics are the stuff of legends, but his work has kept the Leafs in a race that many thought they were out of a month ago. More than once, I have written that this California/Arizona trip will be the fulcrum of the Leafs’ season. If they come home with seven of eight possible points, they are still in contention.
And, honestly, I’m surprised they’ve won the first two. On Tuesday, in San Jose, they likely face their toughest challenge of the trip. Non-all-star Grabovski has inflated the Leafs’ balloon. And now it’s up to his offensive teammates to continue to make sure it doesn’t go burst in the Shark Tank.