Meanwhile, last night, the Carolina Hurricanes picked up a victory, beating up the emotionally drained New Jersey Devils the night after Brodeur's record-setting win. For Carolina, it's a huge win that ties them with Montreal for 7th in the East with 81 points, 3 ahead of the Florida Panthers - the Leafs' opponent for tonight's game. With 2 games in hand however, and 12 more to go on the schedule, the Panthers are still very much in the battle for the last playoff spot.
For the Leafs, the playoff drive, which never really began - in November when it could have mattered - is already done. Newsflash: The Leafs are not going to make the playoffs. You could have said that in December, or even September, and you probably did several times very directly, but a few of us die-hards held out hope and dared to dream of revisiting the post-season. Boundless optimism in the face mediocrity only goes so far, however. "Anything is possible" doesn't sound so good when it's followed up with "though statistically, it's highly improbable".
The Playoff(s!!!1) Dream is over. All that is left is to make it a formality. Toronto's tragic number now sits at 12. That is to say: any combination of points earned by the 8th place team, currently Carolina, and points squandered by the Leafs equalling 12 will mean that the Leafs have been officially eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. To put it simply; 3 Carolina wins (6 points) and 3 Toronto losses (6 points missed) will eliminate the Leafs. That's all. If Carolina wins just 3 of their remaining 10 and Toronto loses only 3 of their remaining 11, both teams will have 87 points and Carolina would advance on most wins. It's reasonable to assume that the Hurricanes are easily going to win at least 3, and just as reasonable to assume the Leafs will lose at least 3, if not 6 or 7. Without a mighty, mighty miracle, it's simply a matter of time.
There are still reasons for optimism however, as I eluded to in my title. Thus, I will present them to you, with bold headings, in a list going down, with numbers going up.
1. OLAS, Grabbo, and Super-Kule. The Leafs have 3 rookies in Schenn, Grabovski, and Kulemin, that have not only survived an NHL season, they've also shown that they can flourish and develop. It'll be interesting to see how each of them matures in their sophomore season, but so far they've all managed to take a big step forwards without hardly any sliding back. Congratulations to all of them for earning their ice-time and deserving the sweater.
2. Kaberle, Kubina, Schenn, White, Finger, Van Ryn, Frogren. I really like this 7-pack of defencemen. I'm happy having every single one of these guys on my team, and as long as this unit can stay healthy (yes, Van Ryn, we're all lookin' at you) for a consistent stretch, I think they're as solid as any group of defenceman from top to bottom. I'm not completely sold on Finger, and Ian White may be the weakest link in the chain here, but I'm hesitant to underestimate either of them anymore. Soft coverage or making bonehead mistakes can be overlooked when you play really, really well most of the time. For this year it's a write-off, but for next year, I'm excited to see what this group can do if they play together over an entire season.
3. The Draft and Brian Burke. I just know he's gonna do something good here. It doesn't matter where we finish in the standings, 'cause Burke'll do whatever it takes to get us the player(s) that he wants. What I'm really hoping for, is that the Leafs somehow acquire a 2nd pick in the top 10, allowing them to draft the younger Schenn, Brayden, and another prospect as well. That is the plan, at least, my plan. Make it happen, Burke old boy. We're counting on you.
And since we're speaking directly, Brian, and as long as you're taking requests; please bring back Belak, okay? That one's vital.