I said let grief be a falling leaf


The Toronto Maple Leafs lost eight games in a row to round out the month of March. April came in like a bit of a cure: the Leafs beat Calgary and Boston this past week before last night’s loss to Winnipeg appeared to kill their playoff hopes. The following anthology of disappointment is a composite of quotes from the month that was, culled from newspapers local and national, wire reports, and the Twitter feeds of a scattering of discouraged beat reporters.

“Obviously we were pretty flat the first period,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said. “It looked like we were still in our afternoon nap. Playing an afternoon game just took us a good part of the game to get warmed up and get awake.”

Losing the game was one thing, built on ill-timed mistakes and mental lapses. But why the lacklustre Leafs couldn’t match the intensity of a team outside the playoff race left goaltender James Reimer and others grasping for answers.

“Why are we losing? It’s different reasons all the time. If it was one thing we would correct it,” said Joffrey Lupul.

“We could not make two passes,” Carlyle said.

They looked like a team that had been beaten and given up, a dead team skating, both that night and again in practice early in the week.

The Leafs were off Sunday but in the dressing room the previous evening the atmosphere skewed toward stunned disbelief, a what-the-hell-happened, rather than gall or even genuine self-recrimination.

“Shocked, depressed, any state you want to call it,” Carlyle said. “When you come in and there’s no music, it’s a tell-tale sign. In any dressing room, there’s always a stereo that can blow you out of the building.”

“We don’t have a whole lot to be too chipper about,” Rielly said. “As a group, we’ve never experienced a skid like this.”

Playing for their playoff lives, the Leafs pulled ahead with two goals early in the third period in what became a 3-2 win over a green Flames team, finally ending the agony of a season-killing eight-game losing streak.

The win boosts their faint playoff hopes to an 8.6 per cent chance, with a pivotal meeting with the Boston Bruins looming large on Thursday.

“We seem to find ways to always wonder, ‘what the heck is going on?’” said head coach Randy Carlyle, who sounded like a man who knows he will not be returning next season. “Why? What’s going on there? Why are we reacting in that manner?

“They’re in your face,” the Montreal Canadiens goalie said. “They’re a playoff team.”

It is indeed to weep, or shake a fist at the fates. Bernier: “When you lose eight in a row, you usually don’t have the hockey gods on your side, that’s for sure.”

Everyone surveyed said Phaneuf’s hockey sense is not the greatest, that he makes too many mistakes for someone who has been in the NHL for 10 seasons.

The Leafs have two glaring systemic issues, with their play in their own zone one of them and their play with leads the other. Toronto is dead last in the league with 2,800 shots allowed this season, a near-record pace that speaks to just how poor their possession and defensive game has become. Some of this is personnel, but a lot rests with the coaching staff, who have been unable to reverse the trend all season.

So what went wrong?

Carlyle: “I wish I had the answer.”

“I just want to come out and play well and kind of be a difference-maker, and unfortunately it wasn’t the case,” Reimer said. “I thought I made some good saves, but it definitely wasn’t the performance I was looking for.”

Said this several times, but for the fans, in long run, this is better for the franchise. Leafs are under the illusion this team is decent.

“I thought we were going to come back at the end, but we made a mistake,” Gardiner said.

“Not a lot of space out on the ice,” Toronto coach Randy Carlyle said.

Oh, Leafs.

Kadri: “We’ve never stopped believing.”

This loss, which winger Mason Raymond said “stings” and captain Dion Phaneuf called “disappointing,” didn’t help that cause.

I see Ron Wilson still blaming Leafs problems on fact “everything is always out of perspective” in Toronto. What a bunch of hooey.

Leafs playoff chances up to 12%. Good night on the whole. Big one tomorrow vs Jets.

Very tame response from ACC crowd so far. Leafs outclassed by Jets for most of the night and only scattered boos.

James Reimer finished with 37 saves for the Leafs. “I don’t know if I can really give you an explanation for that, for how it appeared,” Reimer said after losing his sixth straight start. “I know in our heads we wanted it, but maybe it didn’t show it there.”

This was not a loss. This was a public humiliation. Against a team that had already been eliminated from the playoffs, the Leafs played one of their worst games of the season. They were outshot, outworked, outplayed.

Call it Fan Depreciation Night, a maddening display of their various foibles, a microcosm of the 2013-4 season.

The easy thing to do is fire Randy Carlyle. It’s expedient. It’s convenient. It provides Maple Leafs fans with the pound of flesh they are already clamouring for and will be demanding at the end of this disastrous run. But is it the right thing to do?

“You have to turn the page,” Phaneuf said. “There’s no looking back on today tomorrow. Tomorrow’s a new day, we’ve got to pull ourselves out of it. It’s this group that’s going to get us out of this bind. We’ve been close, but close isn’t good enough right now. We know that we’re going to get out of it, we’ve just got to find a way.”

Leafs are on pace to finish with 87 points this season, and it’s mystifying how they got that many.

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