When the official end finally arrived with a gutless 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes, Leafs’ fans could barely muster enough contempt to rain down a strong chorus of boos.
It was more apathy than anything else.
Maybe they’re so used to the team not making the playoffs (8 years and counting) that it seems like a useless protest because things don’t ever seem to change. Except of course, in one of the greatest business paradoxes around, MLSE grows richer as its teams get crappier.
The Toronto Maple Leafs signed off on any mathematical (whenever that term is mentioned, you know it’s over) playoff chance on Tuesday. But anyone with more than a child’s optimism knew this flaming wreckage of a season was over a month ago, about the time Randy Carlyle took over from Ron Wilson. So much for the “dead cat bounce” of what a coaching change might do to revive their playoff hopes.
In the end, the Leafs went down like the lambs they are. Without a fight, without urgency, without seeming really to care. They are just… done.
It was of course the usual suspects on this much maligned lineup that were no-shows when it came to competing. Lead goal-getter Phil Kessel recorded exactly zero shots on net, making it quite difficult to score for sure. The power play registered zilch and Gustavsson, in yet another vintage Charlie Brown-type performance, allowed three rather soft goals on 12 shots. It took the fight out of them faster than a first-round Mike Tyson uppercut to the jaw.
Gustavsson got the hook seconds into the middle frame after softie #3 in favour of emergency call-up Jussi Rynnas who puck-stopped the rest of the game to record a shutout in his NHL debut. Well, for two periods anyway. Keep the scorecard for a souvenier, Jussi.
As for Gustavsson – will it be his last game as a Leaf with five more remaining? Likely not since James Reimer succumbed to a mysterious upper-body injury on game day. But does it really matter?
These Leafs are as listless and defeated a group that’s worn the blue and white possibly in decades. That’s saying quite a bit. When it comes to the never-ending rebuild-athon, they should keep a couple psychologists on the payroll. There’s more here that needs rebuilding beyond X’s and O’s.
Next Thursday we have the Leafs final home game against Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see fan reaction at game’s end whether the team does that cliched stick salute to fans as a “thanks for your support” gesture.
The brass might want to think about that moment and maybe come up with something a little more apropos for this season. Something that says both “thanks” and “we’re really sorry about this bloody mess and we’ll make it up to you somehow.”
God knows what that might be but it would be a start.
Then again, they might get booed anyway.