The Leafs are an unbelievable 9-1-1 in their last 11 games. That’s pretty darn remarkable.
You might be asking yourself, as I asked myself, "When was the last time that happened?"
Well, I do know of a time when the Leafs went 9-1-2 in their final twelve games of the season. Let me take you on a journey back in time.
We begin in March 2006. In the year after the lockout (no no no, the other lockout), Leafs are virtually dead in the playoff water. Despite adding offseason acquisitions like Eric Lindros, Jeff O’Neill, and the Polish prince Mariusz Czerkawski into the lineup, the Leafs were well back of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Starting goaltender Ed Belfour had fallen to an injury, so it was up to young netminder Mikael Tellqvist to man the crease.
With Belfour only getting older, would Tellqvist be able to earn a starting job in the NHL? Signs were promising. Tellqvist and the Leafs won back-to-back games by beating the Carolina Hurricanes and shutting out the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Leafs’ season seemed to come down to back-to-back games against their oldest rivals, the Montreal Canadiens.
Well, the Habs completely killed the Leafs. Tellqvist allowed five goals on 30 shots and then six goals on 29 shots in 5-1 and 6-2 losses to Cristobal Huet’s Montreal Canadiens.
With pretty much no cards left to play, Leafs head coach Pat Quinn started third-string goalie J.S. Aubin in the next game, starting one of the most bizarre hot streaks I’ve ever seen.
March 26, 2006
The Score: Leafs 4, Devils 3
The Streak: 1-0-0
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopping 35 of 38 shots
The Leafs took a 3-1 lead into the third period thanks to a Mats Sundin slapper. After Scott Gomez cut the lead to one in the third, Matt Stajan scored, assisted by Aki Berg, to restore the Leafs’ two-goal lead. That would prove to be the eventual game-winner as Patrick Elias’ powerplay goal was not enough.
March 28, 2006
The Score: Leafs 3, Flyers 2
The Streak: 2-0-0
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopped 28 of 30 shots
With the game tied at one, 25-year-old Alexei Ponikarovsky scored just 18 seconds into the third period to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead. Rookie Leafs forward Alexander Steen scored the eventual game-winner to make it 3-1. Like Elias the game before, R.J. Umberger’s late goal was not enough.
April 1, 2006
The Score: Sabres 0, Leafs 7
The Streak: 3-0-0
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopping all 24 shots
Ryan Miller got shelled for five first period goals from Jeff O’Neill, Ian White, Tie Domi, and a pair from Nik Antropov. Ponikarovsky and Stajan added third period markers to add to the slaughter. J.S. Aubin picked up the shutout, but really. C’mon.
Games like this are prone to fights out of frustration. In this case, it was a young rookie named Paul Gaustad taking on Wade Belak. Brave on Gaustad’s part, but a pretty terrible idea nonetheless.
April 3, 2006
The Score: Sabres 3, Leafs 2 (SO)
The Streak: 3-0-1
J.S. Aubin: Lost in shootout, stopping 33 of 36 shots
The Sabres had their revenge, but the Leafs put up a fight. Derek Roy and Maxim Afinoganov scored to give the Sabres a 2-0 lead, but young Leafs forward John Pohl scored in the second to give the Leafs life. Matt Stajan’s third period marker forced a shootout, but unfortunately Afinoganov scored there too, costing the Leafs a precious point.
April 5, 2006
The Score: Islanders 2, Leafs 3
The Streak: 4-0-1
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopping 27 of 29 shots.
Alexei Yashin and Darcy Tucker scored in the second period to make it a 1-1 tie after two. After Miroslav Satan made it 2-1 Islanders, Tucker responded on the powerplay with his second of the game to tie it once again. Ponikarovsky scored the winner with just over two minutes remaining, and the Leafs won. Aubin out-duelled Islanders goalie Garth Snow.
April 6, 2006
The Score: Leafs 2, Bruins 3
The Streak: 4-0-2
J.S. Aubin: Lost in the shootout, stopping 25 of 27 shots
After struggling miserably as a Leaf earlier in the season, Mariusz Czerkawski scored against his former team to make it 1-0. See? Former Leafs scoring on the blue and white is a long-lasting tradition. Ponikarovsky scored to tie it in the second, but Glen Murray restored Boston’s lead. In the dying seconds of the game, Mats Sundin put on his captain’s hat and tied the game – with just 13 seconds left. What a guy! Unfortunately Brad Boyes, another guy the Leafs got rid of, scored the shootout winner. You can’t make this stuff up, folks.
April 8, 2006
The Score: Leafs 5, Flyers 2
The Streak: 5-0-2
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopping 28 of 30 shots
The Leafs scored all five of their goals on the powerplay if you can believe it. Sundin and Steen got one each, O’Neill got two, and Chad Kilger put one in an empty-net to seal it. The game also saw a short tilt between Donald Brashear and Wade Belak.
April 11, 2006 – Mats Sundin’s six-point night
The Score: Panthers 5, Leafs 6
The Streak: 6-0-2
J.S. Aubin: "Won", stopping 21 of 26 shots
In a rare fit of suckage, J.S. Aubin was absolutely brutal in this one. Joe Nieuwendyk scored a hat-trick against his former club, because of course. Luckily, the Leafs threw 53 shots at Panthers goalie Jamie McLennan, and he let in six of them. On this night, Mats Sundin produced one of the best offensive games any Leaf has ever had in my lifetime. He scored four goals, two assists (both primary), and six points. No other Leaf had more than three points that night. Sundin also took seven shots and won 73% of his faceoffs.
I’m only 25, but sometimes I worry that people who are younger than me by five or more years don’t grasp how single-handedly dominant Mats Sundin really was. He was everything we’re told Swedes aren’t. He was pure power, grit, and determination, and this night was a perfect example. He was known for his backhand, but man could he crank a slapper. This video has highlights from the whole game. The guy was magic.
April 13, 2006
The Score: Leafs 4, Islanders 3
The Streak: 7-0-2
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopping 23 of 26 shots
Matt Stajan scored what could have been the game-winner in the third period, but Shawn Bates tied the game up 3-3 just over halfway through the frame. Young Stajan would get his game-winner anyway though, scoring the OT-winner with just over one minute to play in overtime.
April 15, 2006
The Score: Senators 1, Leafs 5
The Streak: 8-0-2
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopping 30 of 31 shots
The Leafs dominated from start to finish. Toronto had five goal-scorers: Tomas Kaberle (PPG), Matt Stajan (PPG), Chad Kilger, Mats Sundin (PPG), and Nik Antropov. Unfortunately for Aubin, Danny Heatley spoiled his shutout bid in the third period. No matter. Aubin still out-duelled hot Sens rookie goalie Ray Emery.
All was grand in Leaf land as the Leafs were still magically in the playoff hunt!… Oh. Never mind.
That night, Martin St. Louis scored against the Carolina Hurricanes in overtime to eliminate the Leafs from playoff contention. The Tampa Bay Lightning went on to play the Ottawa Senators in the Quarter Finals. Sure, even if the Leafs made it they would have to take on the heavily-favoured first seed… but it was the Ottawa Senators! They would’ve had a shot!
April 16, 2006
The Score: Leafs 0, Sabres 6
The Streak: 8-1-2
J.S. Aubin: Didn’t play but freaking Mikael Tellqvist let in six goals on 40 shots
This is what happens when you have nothing left to play for, I guess.
…Ok. When a team gets shutout, it’s never their goalie’s fault. When a team gets destroyed 6-0, it’s not just the goalie’s fault. The Leafs had just played the night before, too… But when the guy you’re replacing in net went 8-0-2 in 10 games, and in doing so, stole your job, this was a pretty awful performance by Tellqvist. The lone highlight for the Leafs was Tie Domi fighting Jay McKee, sort of.
Side note, look at how completely squirrely Andrew Peters goes trying to fight Ben Ondrus. I remember Peters used to always fly off the handle like that. It wasn’t passion or a competitive edge. The guy was a nutjob. Hell, you’d think it was his team down 4-0 at that point. Nope. Just nuts. By the way – how isn’t this abuse of an official? I feel like it would be today, not to talk about 2006 as if it were "the good ol’ days."
You may also remember this little gem from Peters:
Hey who wants to see how many playoff games Andrew Peters played in his NHL career? I know I do!
Regular season games on the left, and a whoooollle big pile of nothing in the playoff column on the right. Sorry – end rant.
April 18, 2006
The Score: Penguins 3, Leafs 5
The Streak: 9-1-2
J.S. Aubin: Won, stopped 30 of 33 shots
This might come as a surprise to some of the youngsters out there, but believe it or not, there was a time the Pittsburgh Penguins completely stunk. The Leafs got off to a 5-0 lead, including the first career NHL goal of Leafs folklore legend Jeremy Williams. A young rookie by the name of Sidney Crosby scored to snap Aubin’s shutout, but his his goal along with Colby Armstrong’s and Ryan Malone’s was not enough. At least the Leafs ended the season on a high note.
Things have a funny way of working out. Just over two months later, this guy was drafted fifth overall by the Boston Bruins. He has since traded in the black and gold for some much more fashionable attire.