Lots of things have changed since then, but this isn't about that.
This is about relaxation. This is about relief. This is about my Leafs being back in the playoffs.
They clinched on Saturday. Their seed is still up for debate, but 5th place vs the Habs looks likely. Which, in reality, is about the most ideal matchup possible this year. Oh, the Leafs and Canadiens, one of the greatest rivalries in all sports, haven't met in the playoffs since 1979.
Even though it's been nine years since the Buds were last wearing skates in May, and 34 years since they saw the bleu, blanc, et rouge across the ice from them, there's no pressure here.
Because let's be honest -- they shouldn't even be here.
They got outshot 50-22 in their last game, and won 4-1.
They're 25-15-5, with no shootout wins. They were outshot in TWENTY of those 25 wins. That's obviously 1st in the league for that stat. They've been outshot 1461-1202, a 259 shot differential. The ONLY team with a worse diff is Edmonton, and they're in the shitter. It's been more than a decade since a team saw the playoffs with a ratio this bad.
They also lead the league in blocked shots. So in the ol' pucks directed towards the net concept - they're terrible.
Penalties - they're 2nd in penalty minutes, and 1st in majors. This is a team that likes to beat your team up. They get away with it because they also happen to have the 3rd best penalty killing unit in the league. Oh, and they also have more hits than anyone else by a mile. Truculence and aggression and all that.
Shooting percentages are out of whack. Kadri is shooting 18.6% and leads the team in goals. Bozak is shooting 19.7%, JVR 13.3%, Lupul, who everyone in Toronto now agrees is the best player on the ice when he's healthy, is shooting 27%! For perspective, Crosby's shooting percentage is 12.1%, Stamkos is 19%, and Ovechkin is 14.2%.
In fact, all the fancy stats say the Leafs are in an unsustainable season. Good thing it was only 48 games then. The question becomes - can they carry this unexpected success into the playoffs?
Lupul is back (again, again), and one would think relatively fresh with only 13 games played this season. He hasn't been stellar in his 3 games post-concussion, but he does have two goals in there. One from a hard drive to the net, the next from a stolen puck and mini break. Kadri has been in a slump since March, but got a flukey goal on Saturday, which may get the monkey off his tiny baby-faced back. Kessel has been quietly been playing the best overall hockey of his career all season, despite whining from the fans who used to bitch about how one-dimensional he was. Phaneuf has played his best season as a Leaf, showing maturity and eating up all kinds of minutes.
Then there's Reimer. Since the trade deadline he's basically said "Roberto Who? Mikka what?" with his play. 2.12 GAA, .939 SV % in April. The guy is standing on his head, and the players around his net are helping him look even better. Since he re-learned how to catch, he's been nearly unbeatable. A hot goalie heading into the playoffs? Leading a team with 4 legitimate offensive threats across two lines, and a whole team willing to block your shots and crush you into the boards? Yah, I'll take that. Fancy stats be damned.
The playoffs are a different brand of hockey. They're tougher. There's no quarter given. Every game is a must-win. The pressure starts at 10 and ratchets up with each round. And the reality is - Leafs fans are just happy to be there. Everything else is gravy right now. The team knows it. They're loose. They're happy. They have a coach that will whip them into the right mindset if they falter. This could be fun.
Besides, if my guys somehow, against all reason, miraculously go all the way? It won't count to anyone outside of Toronto, after all, it wasn't a real season.
Wednesday, April 24, 2013