FEAR INFECTING LEAFS AS PLAYOFF HOPES DWINDLE
Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.
St. Louis was all that and more for most of a cold March night. They dealt the sliding Leafs their sixth straight loss – seven in the past eight games – and a very loud exit from the current playoff picture. Once on firm ground toward a second straight trip to the postseason, Toronto now sits 10th in the East, trailing Columbus and Detroit for the final two wild card spots with only eight games left to play.
Skidding for nearly two weeks without even a single point they are in danger of fumbling away what seemed like a sure thing. Fear of that reality, it seems, is slowly infecting the group. “Well, certainly we’re afraid of letting it slip away,” Joffrey Lupul conceded after a 5-3 loss to the Blues, the Leafs winless since Mar. 13.
“The whole year we thought we were a playoff team and we still believe that now.”
At this moment, however, they are not. And what once seemed unthinkable as recently as two weeks prior when they stormed through California has now become a very real reality. The Leafs may not make the playoffs and they know it. And that fear of fumbling it away is driving the nerves of a flailing group.
Head coach Randy Carlyle observed “tenseness” during the first half of Wednesday’s game, one that saw St. Louis completely manhandle their sinking opponents, especially so in a dominant first frame. Big, hard, fast and strong, the best team in the West controlled possession of the puck almost without exception, peppering Jonathan Bernier with 23 shots while scoring the first two of four unanswered.