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As the Leafs get ready for the playoffs in Florida, a question: can we play the Habs?

I’ve been fighting a bit of a bug this week, so I will be brief tonight.  The Leafs are fighting for a higher playoff seed in Florida this week, before wrapping up this short-lived regular season on Saturday night.

I'm not sure why, but the Lightning contest didn’t ‘feel’ right for me, and I wonder if some of the players were not quite at their best, either, after clinching that playoff berth and spending a few days in sunny Florida.  Something felt a tad off.  Yes, they missed some chances that would have changed the outcome, but you could say that for most any game, eh?  I didn’t expect them to “win out”, but if nothing else, Carlyle has plenty of ammunition when he hits the chalk board before the next couple of games.

All that said, I was happy to see guys like Colborne, Frattin and Kostka get some much-needed ice time.  We will need everyone - and I mean everyone - ready to roll when the first playoff round begins.


On that “playoff” note, if I had my druthers, I’d probably like to see us play the Habs first.  I would have felt that way even before the Montrealers began to struggle a bit in recent games.  I’d just like to see a Montreal-Toronto series, which I sense would catalyze the Leaf fans base.  (I was at the Forum for the last playoff series between these two games back in the spring of 1979.)  And while the Habs—like our Leafs—have some fine young talent and solid veterans like Markov (and yes, Price in goal) they aren’t exactly the ’77 Habs—and nowhere near as physically difficult to play against as those great old Hab teams were, forget not being as talented. 

And what would a playoff series victory do for Leafworld?  Imagine….

I’m not sure I want to see the Capitals right now. As much as I was among those ready to dismiss them six weeks or so ago, they have become one of the tougher teams to play right now.  If they can maintain their edge (that won't be easy), they will obviously be  a handful for anyone.

As for the Bruins, I’ve said it here most of the season.  They are not, in my view, what they were two years ago.  Back then, they were so well-balanced, so tough on the puck, and had consistently superb goaltending and an undisputed number one goalie in Tim Thomas.  I’m not sure they are the same team and it’s not just the injuries they have suffered.  They experienced something of a Cup hangover a year ago, and I sense they may not be able to suddenly play the style and system that Claude Julien wants at this late date.  They have struggled for big parts of the season and have rarely seemed to be on the same page. 

I guess we’ll see.


In any event, we won’t know who the Leafs will play until the weekend.  In the meantime, there are a couple of recent “Leaf Matters” podcasts that may be of interest to you. In  Episode 56 co-host Matteo Codispoti from We Want a Cup and I chat with Globe & Mail writer James Mirtle, while ESPN’s Craig Custance dropped by for Episode 57.  Mirtle is among those who employs 'advanced stats' as part of his analysis, while Custance provides an excellent—and I would say detached and objective, therefore important—assessment of the blue and white.  He knows the entire Eastern Conference very well.

You can catch all the “Leaf Matters” shows, on iTunes and the PodAlmighty Network.  We’ve been able to attract some top-notch guests—former Maple Leaf greats, mainstream media folks who know the Leafs inside out and some tremendous writers from the blogging community as well.  For those interested, here is a guest list from the show:

Former Leafs

·      Allan Bester
·      Laurie Boschman
·      Bob Nevin
·      Mark Osborne
·      Mirko Frycer
·      Jim Dorey

Mainstream media

·      Mike Zeisberger, Toronto Sun
·      Lance Hornby, Toronto Sun
·      Kevin McGran, Toronto Star
·      Damien Cox, Toronto Star
·      Adam Proteau, The Hockey News
·      Sean McIndoe (“Down Goes Brown”) National Post
·      Darren Yourk, Globe & Mail
·      Paul Hendrick, Leafs TV
·      Joe Bowen, Leafs play-by-play
·      Dave Feschuk, Toronto Star
·      Steve Buffery, Toronto Sun
·      Michael Traikos, National Post
·      Mike Strobel, Toronto Sun
·      Paul Cuthbert, “Hockey this Week” (New York)
·      Norman James CTV London
·      James Mirtle, Globe & Mail
·      Craig Custance, ESPN


·      Rob Del Mundo, TML fans
·      Jon Steitzer, Maple Leaf Hot Stove/Yakov Mironov
·      Anthony Petrielli, Maple Leaf Hot Stove
·      Marco Perruzza, Hope in the Big Smoke
·      Curt Snodden, Blue Chips Prospects
·      Miranda Furtado, “Babes Dig Balls”
·      Alec Brownscombe, Maple Leaf Hot Stove
·      Brian Huddle

Other special guests

·      Pat Quinn, former Leaf player and coach
·      Elizabeth Brinton, grand-daughter of Maple Leaf founder Conn Smythe
·      Matt Nichol, founder, Biosteel


  1. The 3 you mentioned (Colborne, Frattin and Kostka) were amongst the more notable players on the ice for me. Of course, I was 'looking for them' but it was nice to see their motivation level seemingly exceeding that of many others whose heads weren't entirely in the game.

    Yes there were moments, but they did seem 'off'.

    Colborne impressed me with his hustle and surprising speed on the backcheck midway thru the 2nd. His acceleration has really improved.

    Frattin made a nice play 'bursting thru the middle' for a nice chance on Bishop. Kostka made some good plays, but was also noticeable missing a puck at the point (effectively ending a good cycle to that point).

    Can't blame Reimer on the howitzer from the top of the circle or the crazy bounce off the boards to St. Louis. That early pass for the tap-in was just 'unstoppable' - couldn't deny Tampa the 4th goal, so it was one of those games where the puck didn't 'hit him' quite as often... still thought he had some nice saves (not to mention a nice clearing pass to the boards under pressure... hmm working on the puck-handling, perhaps?).

    Hope you're feeling better soon!

  2. Thanks for the well wishes, InTimeFor62.

    Yes, those three lineup additions added some jump. I think Kostka led the team in ice team (like the early days of the season). Carlyle cut back on Phaneuf's time tonight.

    Reimer may well be working on his puck-handling. That can be such a huge asset for goalies. They should all work constantly on that part of their game. (CuJo was never as good a puck-handler as he seemed to think he was he was, for example...)

  3. Hey Michael,

    Hope you get well soon. We can't have the vets be sick come playoff time - lol - we need all that wisdom in our analysis of this team.

    Hmm, I didn't catch the whole game - just the first period - the leafs seemed to have it together till then. Watched the highlights for the other 40 mins and the leafs definitely didn't have their heart in the game.

    Perhaps this is the best thing for them, so they don't get too inflated an ego when they face their 1st round opponent - likely the Habs or the Caps at this point (Those two bad losses to the islanders this year may come back to haunt us if they pass us for the 5th spot).

    Can this leafs squad play the habs?

    Answer: Yea we can, but I think today's lose reminded all of us giddy fans - that the Montreal of the past 2 weeks that we have been seeing has played pretty much like the leafs did tonight - a little disengaged after clinching and leaving the goaltender to do all the lifting. So this should be a lesson for those saying that the leafs sweep the habs or that this series won't be close to think again and just take it a game at a time - like any playoff series should be.

    P.S. I have been thinking a little ahead to next year and I am starting to wonder about the future of Joe Colbourne, Grabovski and Bozak with the leafs going into next year - which will be the real test for the leafs.

    If bozak is resigned and grabo is not bought out or traded - how long can we keep colbourne in the minors? If we can't for much longer - is he the next young prospect to leave town for say perhaps a quality 3rd/4th d-man that the team will need to be more competitive in the future? I worry this will be a likely case and he may end up becoming a good player down the stretch in his career.

    Anon from Scarborough (Get Well Soon)

  4. Thank you Scarborough Anon. I am looking to get some rest and hang in 'till this passes.

    You make a very good point about the Habs and the playoffs. They have struggled of late, but these things can get turned around very quickly. Suddenly the confidence kicks in, Price is on his game and they're a very different opponent. (I'd still like to play them for the reasons I've discussed here before- and I do sense we can beat them in a playoff series...)

    You're not alone in wondering where we go when it comes to the three centers you mention. Is Grabbo part of the future? Does he become a trading piece and if so, is he an attractive one? Will Bozak re-sign at a salary that makes sense?

    Good stuff- thanks.

  5. I thought Colborne looked terrific tonight. That was his best game so far as a Leaf. With his size and skill..when he was banging around the net I though we had another JVR. Perhaps he breaks though next year.

    The Leafs did look off tonight and some of that shows the value of Phaneuf. They were trying to keep Dion's minutes down to rest him for the playoffs and I think he was taking it easy.

    Fraser and Franson got burned by the extra minutes. They are normally plus or even.

    The Grabovski line was also off. Grabo was playing relatively well but his line mates don't get any his creativity and miss many of his passes and can't convert for goals, especially Kamorov. I would like to see them try Grabo with Kadri and Lupul. We already know Kulemin, Kamarov are a dynamite checking line.

    I hate to say it, but the absence of the face-punchers Orr and McLaren may have made a difference. Tampa wasn't nervously looking around to see who was on the ice like teams normally do. They looked totally comfortable and unconcerned. Maybe we need one of Orr and McLaren, but not both.

  6. All good points tonight, DP. (Let me just say I'm probably a bit of a "doubting Thomas" on Colborne...I'll believe it when he plays consistently hard over a period of time at this level but I recognize he has upside...)

    Yes, Fraser and Franson are best, it seems, in the role they have been in most of this year: a solid third-line pairing.

    I liked Grabbo tonigh toot but felt he didn't win a battle that led to one of the Tampa goals (I'm trying to remember precisely which one but it was a puck battle near his own goal...).

    I think we are definitely a different team with Orr and/or MacLaren in. Like you, I wish it wasn't the case but it just does make a difference, whether people want to believe it or not. In the playoffs, historically that's not an issue, but we'll see this year. We can still be a fragile team, and need to play with a tough edge.

    To your point on Phaneuf: it just shows you can't play hockey and "take things easy". Just not that kind of game. Thanks DP.

  7. I'm with you on preferring the Habs in the first round. I am concerned with our play of late - it's been a long time since we dominated a game. Tonight's match was going along just fine until our second power play, when Tampa generated a couple of short-handed chances. We seemed to lose our focus after that.
    It was indeed good to see Colborne, Frattin and MacArthur out there. We're definitely going to need all hands on deck for the next few weeks. I think the work Orr and McLaren do on the forecheck is underrated, and I think that's where we missed them. Not that we were going to win this one, but as noted above, we're a different team when they're in the lineup.
    The bigger problem is that we just haven't been sharp for a while now. I hope we'll see that change over the next games.

  8. Yes, you'd like to see the team be clicking consistently a bit better than it has been most nights of late, Gerund O'. It's not easy to turn it on at playoff time, but momentum can shift suddenly, as we know. A good first-round match-up surely will get everyone focussed and ready to play.

    1. Because I apparently have too much time on my hands, I decided to break down the Leafs' season in 7 game chunks, a la Brian Sutter, to see how they've done. They've only come out on the short end once - which surprised me. Most chunks have been 4-3, with one 5-2. If you break it down by what it would take to win/lose a 7 game series, they've won five and lost two. They're 1-3 at the moment, so the best they can hope for is 3-3 to close the season out. Not that performance during the stretch run determines playoff performance, but it would be nice to see us even out the tally on these last two games.

    2. Game # W L Home Road
      1 1 0 0 1
      2 0 1 1 0
      3 1 0 0 1
      4 0 1 1 0
      5 0 1 0 1
      6 1 0 0 1
      7 1 0 1 0
      4 3 3(1W,2L) 4(3W,1L)
      Game # W L Home Road
      8 0 1 1 0
      9 0 1 1 0
      10 1 0 0 1
      11 1 0 0 1
      12 1 0 0 1
      13 1 0 1 0
      14 0 1 0 1
      4 3 3(1W,2L) 4(3W,1L)
      Game # W L Home Road
      15 1 0 1 0
      16 1 0 0 1
      17 0 1 0 1
      18 1 0 1 0
      19 0 1 0 1
      20 1 0 0 1
      21 0 1 1 0
      4 3 3(2W,1L) 4(2W,2L)
      Game # W L Home Road
      22 1 0 0 1
      23 1 0 1 0
      24 1 0 1 0
      25 0 1 0 1
      26 0 1 1 0
      27 0 1 0 1
      28 0 1 1 0
      3 4 4(2W,2L) 3(1W,2L)
      Game # W L Home Road
      29 0 1 1 0
      30 1 0 1 0
      31 0 1 0 1
      32 1 0 1 0
      33 0 1 0 1
      34 1 0 1 0
      35 1 0 1 0
      4 3 5(4W,1L) 2(0W,2L)
      Game # W L Home Road
      36 1 0 0 1
      37 0 1 1 0
      38 1 0 0 1
      39 1 0 1 0
      40 0 1 0 1
      41 1 0 1 0
      42 1 0 1 0
      5 2 4(3W,1L) 3(2W,1L)
      Game # W L Home Road
      43 0 1 0 1
      44 0 1 1 0
      45 1 0 0 1
      46 0 1 0 1
      47 ? ? 0 1
      48 ? ? 1 0
      1 3 2(?W,1L) 4(1W,2L)

      Here is a spreadsheet of what u are talking about above - with the added analysis of home/road games and number of wins in both.

      Anon from Scarborough

    3. Thanks for the detailed breakdown, Scarborough Anon...

  9. Sutter was a fine player and a good hockey guy, nothing wrong with referring to his "model". It would be good to see the boys playing good, solid, smart hockey heading into the first round...thanks Gerund.

  10. Last night I think the team's youth was on display. It seemed they got the "oh no, not again" feeling when they hit some posts and Tampa tied the game at 1. That's where you need the leaders and/or veterans to calm the guys down. It's something we don't really have I'm affraid. It's a fine balance to have young, old, leaders and top end players on the same team at the same time. I guess that's why it's so hard to win the cup.

    I also saw that Orr and McClaren were missed by the other guys. Whatever they feel more comfortable with is fine with me. If they like playing more with one of those 2 in the lineup, then fine.

    As for the first round matchup, definitely the habs. We may not beat them, but we've played them well this year. Boston has that "in their head" factor, it would not be pretty. I also noticed you changed your mind about meeting the B's in round one. Was Price's play a factor?

    1. I think Price can bounce back, portuguese leaf, so that's not a big factor for me. I just feel we can play with the Habs, and it would be a fun series from a fan perspective.

      The Bruins are a beatable team. I think they are not what they were. Not to say they won't be good in the playoffs, I'm just not sure they aren't a bit fragile without Thomas in goal. Beyond that, they have not been as consistently hard to beat as they have been in the past. I could be wrong.

  11. This is just the hockey gods equaling things out. This is two teams playing a nothing game. The Leafs can't really move up or down and they just want to get to the playoffs with everyone healthy. The Lightning are a bad team playing out the stretch. If the first two posts had gone in we looking at a completely different game. The Leafs go into lockdown mode and the Lightning most likely fold up and go away. Remember earlier in the year against the Islanders, when the Isles hit 4 posts and lost? This game means nothing. The only people who had some interest in playing hard were the 4th line. Frattin, Colburne and Kostka and concidently enough they were the best line on the ice for large chunks of the game.

    As for playoff match ups I don't really care one way or another. Since I have been following the Leafs closely starting in the late 80's the closest I have seen to a rivalry was the Sens. For me Montreal is just another team that happens to be in the NHL. That may change over the next few years since you now have to play out of your division but right now its all white noise to me. In fact if I had to give an answer I would pick Boston, simply because they have had the most recent success and have dominated Toronto for the last couple of years even in the few games the leafs won.

  12. Interesting, Willbur. I wonder if a lot of Leaf fans feel the same way about the Habs- that is, they don't much care if we play them one way or the other?