"As a team, we gotta believe." Those words came out of James Reimer’s mouth after the Leafs’ 4-3 win over the Sabres. But, against Buffalo, was the perfect opportunity for the Leafs to begin their much-anticipated slide into oblivion. I say “much-anticipated” because there are legions of so-called fans out there who expect – even hope for – these collapses that the Leafs have supposedly become famous for. But they’re forgetting one thing. These are not Mats Sundin’s Leafs. These are not Darcy Tucker’s Leafs. These are not Tie Domi’s Leafs. And a collapse does not seem imminent.
These are James Reimer’s Leafs. They are Luke Schenn’s Leafs. They are Dion Phaneuf’s Leafs and they are Mikhail Grabovski’s Leafs. Those are the guy who will determine whether or not this club reaches the postseason for the first time since 2004. It will not be in the hands of the ghosts of Sundin, Domi and Tucker. And, with just 13 games remaining in the regular season, head coach Ron Wilson’s Stanley Cup Playoff experience will start to come into play.
Wilson has led eight different clubs to the playoffs. He did it once in Anaheim, three times in Washington and four times in San Jose. His 1998 Capitals reached the Stanley Cup Final (where they were swept by Scotty Bowman’s Red Wings). Wilson seems to have installed a reasonably calm demeanour on this club as winter nears its end. Even though there’s lots of youth on this club, they’re not really playing like a young team.
Oh, some players are. Phil Kessel is still wildly inconsistent. And Tyler Bozak disappears for weeks at a time. But that win on over the Sabres on Saturday was another character game for Toronto. They were trailing going into the third period. Perfect time to collapse and allow three more in a 7-2 loss, right? Nope. Not this time and, not in a long time.
I am not anticipating a collapse. There have already been way too many opportunities for this club to toss out the “We’ll get ’em next season” bull. Hasn’t happened. Not going to.
The Leafs have four games this week – Monday v. Tampa Bay, Wednesday in Carolina, Thursday in Florida and Saturday v. Boston. By next Sunday morning, the club could be sitting in eighth spot. But it will be tough, as Carolina visits Buffalo on Tuesday. Pray that one doesn’t go to overtime. But it’s the Sabres’ only game until next Saturday. All they can do is sweat and watch the Leafs try to catch them.
James Reimer outplayed Ryan Miller on Saturday night. And he’ll have to outplay the opposition netminder many more times down the stretch. Do you doubt him? Neither do I.
The way they’re playing, these Leafs are poised to keep this run going and make the spring of 2011 very memorable for Toronto fans – especially the ones who are keeping the faith.