It’s been six excruciatingly long and strung out miserable seasons, but this is the year the Leafs make the playoffs. Coming from a Montreal girl who’s really had more pleasure than pain watching the locals endure the torture, there are signs that point to the return to the Promised Land. No no, not the land of Lord Stanley, there’s no promises there, but just the possibility of tasting the first round fling once more now seems closer than ever.
They started 2012 off right with four straight wins, including 17 goals for and two shutouts. Queue the three game losing skid that’s pushed them out of a playoff spot, and consider tonight’s game against an equally struggling Wild team as the opportunity that puts them back on track. Similar to Vinnie and Pauly D, high scorers Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul’s budding bromance has hit a brick wall. So Coach Ron Wilson has taken care of the situation by splitting the duo to promote productivity. Drastic move. But drastic times call for drastic measures. It’s become too obvious that the Leafs lack secondary scoring, making it easy for the opposition if they can shut down their top unit. Lupol’s playmaking ability and hockey IQ should spark his fellow line mates Tim Connolly and Nazem Kadri, who both need the jolt badly. Wilson’s move promotes balance which is desperately needed in the club, since putting all their eggs in one basket doesn’t seem to work.
If you compare the dark days of former General Manager Cliff Fletcher and Head Coach Paul Maurice, the Leafs have made great strides. The induction of Americans (GM) Brian Burke and Wilson, who’ve both had impressive runs out West, was really the page turner to the next chapter of Leafs nation. Everything from whip cracking to bags packing, the duo has a no-nonsense attitude that commands the team, and neither of them is shy to pull the trigger on poor attitude and performance.
As we enter the second half of the season, teams like the Leafs jockeying for playoff contention will be highly pressured to be either buyers or sellers come the Trade Deadline. Fortunately over the last few years, Leafs fans can rest assured Burkie knows how to cut a deal, as his track record for low-balling his way to big ticket items makes him an easy contender for a seat on Dragon’s Den. The acquisition of All-Stars Joffrey Lupol and Dion Phaneuf, while dumping overpaid underachievers like Nicklas Hagman, Matt Stajan, Francois Beauchemin and Jason Blake, has brought life and hope to such a huge hockey market that’s been struggling for so long. As the deadline draws near, a bona fide center man and a defensive minded guru could be the missing pieces that solve the playoff puzzle.
The last time the Leafs were in the playoffs, social networking site Facebook launched exclusively to students of Harvard. 800,000,000 users later, the Leafs status has changed, and pretty soon it’s going to read ‘Holy Mackinaw it’s playoff time!’