Things were a bit dicey for the Leafs in their home away from home (did you hear the fans in Ottawa? Were there as many Leaf supporters there as folks cheering for the Sens?) when Spezza did his best Phil Esposito impression and tied the game at 2 early in the third on the power play. (It was not unusual for Phil to stay on the ice in his late-'60s-early '70s hey-day with the Bruins for the entire two-minute man-advantage. Believe me when I say it was hard for a third-line center to get ice time back then in Boston.) Spezza was on the ice the entire PP- almost two full minutes- and slapped one home to knot things up, but Lupul and Bozak stuck their nose in the slot and crease respectively to restore the lead. Kulemin added another, continuing his emergence as a difference-making forward.
Kessel was flying, the defense did what they've been doing. Reimer was Reimer. (Amazing, eh, that this young man has been consistently remarkable in the third period, whenever the game is on the line, after he has a tough outing, etc.) And Washington won over the Sabres in OT.
I pronounced the season over for the Leafs last Saturday (and I still believe the mountain is too big to climb because other teams keep winning) but you can feel the buzz around town. Maybe this is just the hockey version of "Weekend at Bernie's" but if the Leafs are dead, they're doing a good job of hiding it.
Those who follow Vintage Leaf Memories are well acquainted with my thoughts with regard to Ron Wilson. He remains what he has been for years: a good, competent, experienced NHL coach.
Now, when it comes to his public persona and how he comes across with the press, well, it’s been a bit better lately but I still hear the unnecessary verbal darts every time things go slightly off the rails, so he’ll never win the warm and fuzzy award, but many, unlike myself, don’t much care about that. (Less than two weeks back, he said, out loud, that Reimer looked tired, then bristled two days later when reporters asked his the goalie was tired and said the goalie wasn't tired..)
The team is playing, without question, its most inspired hockey since 2003-’04. It’s younger (that’s Burke), tougher (also Burke) but
and his staff have helped turn this team into a legitimate…well, a legitimate NHL team. Wilson
Now, I have no idea whether Wilson was even the least bit on slippery ice as the team continued to spiral, earlier this season, for a third consecutive year under his guidance.
Burke would deny it, so we can only speculate.
But all is rosy now. He’ll be back for the last year of his contract and as I’ve posted for a while now (click to read the story), I fully anticipate he will be accorded a lucrative new extension shortly after the Leafs season concludes, whenever that will be.
We can debate, and people surely will, here and elsewhere, whether
deserves an extension. My guess is some fans wouldn’t mind seeing how the team starts next season before committing yet more years to the often acerbic-sounding coach. As in, if they continue to play with the form they have displayed since the All-Star game, all will be good in blue and white land, and of course Burke will “up” him for a few more years. Wilson
But if things start poorly yet again, well, it would be time to re-think if
is the right guy to take this young squad to that cherished next level….two or three levels actually. Making the playoffs is one thing, being a true Cup contender is often quite another. Wilson
In any event,
won’t be sacked, not now and likely not ever, by Burke. (Hey, these things happen on occasion….look at Ruff in Wilson Buffalo, Trotz in . Respected coaches who have been with the same GM forever—and it works.) Nashville
Critics can rightly wonder if, under Wilson, we will ever get a power play or penalty-killing unit that consistently makes a positive difference, but that is obviously just one facet (albeit important) of assessing a coach.
At the end of the day, here’s the truth, however. Whatever Wilson has done to tweak lines, motivate players, teach, cajole, bench guys on occasion, all that and more, there is one undeniable reality: If James Reimer doesn’t show up and play as he has, the Leafs aren’t even close to where they are now, and all this “hope for the future” and “things are different this time” talk would largely be whistling past the graveyard.
Yes, there is much to laud about the improved play of this squad, the young defense, the grit of Boyce, Brent, etc. and timely goals from Grabbo and others, but bottom line, we know Reimer is the straw that has stirred this drink and given the team the confidence to surge ahead.
And that, more than anything, is why
is now a “better” coach, and one who will soon can an extension. Wilson
That’s the history of hockey—great goaltending makes for successful coaches.