The hopes, dreams and wishes of improving on last season's first-round defeat in the playoffs are almost over for the Toronto Maple Leafs after a 4-2 loss to the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday, writes Mike Brophy.
Stick a fork in the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Barring a miracle, they are done like dinner. Again.
The hopes, dreams and wishes of improving on last season's first-round defeat in the playoffs are almost over.
Thanks to three goals from Darren Helm, the Detroit Red Wings defeated the Maple Leafs 4-2 at Air Canada Centre on Saturday. Toronto now sits 10th in the Eastern Conference and all the teams ahead of them have played fewer games.
The loss was Toronto's eighth in a row and pretty much sealed the fact the Maple Leafs will not make the playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons.
The Maple Leafs, who have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967, will most likely be back on the sidelines while the league's best teams partake in the playoffs.
Things looked very good for Toronto at times this season, but this monumental collapse makes it one of the most disappointing finishes in team history.
"This loss is the most disappointing out of the eight; there's no hiding that," said captain Dion Phaneuf. "We lose a game yesterday (4-2 to Philadelphia) that we feel we did a lot of good things in and then we come tonight against a team that is battling for that same (playoff) spot and they win this hockey game. This if the toughest loss, for sure."
The Red Wings are trying to make the playoffs for the 23rd straight season. Winning goalie Jimmy Howard said he and his teammates feel the pressure to live up to the standard set by the teams that came before them.
"It means a lot," Howard said. "The bar was set so high before us. There have been a lot of great players and a lot of great teams and we're just trying to live up to it. We've had a lot of hurdles to jump over this year and we just continue to keep pushing forward."
The Maple Leafs have struggled taking the lead in games during the losing streak, but lo and behold they grabbed a 1-0 lead thanks to a Cody Franson blast from the right point at 10:57 of the first period. It was Franson's fifth goal of the season. Not only that, it was on their ninth shot of the game.
And then it disappeared
With Toronto on the power play, Helm broke in alone, but was poke-checked by Bernier. Phew, right? Nope. Maple Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner had the puck knocked off his stick and it went to Helm who deposited a backhander past Bernier. It was the 11th shorthanded goal Toronto has allowed.
Toronto's David Bolland took an interference penalty at 14:23 on a play that was about to be called for icing. Then he complicated matters by hitting the player he interfered with, Darren Helm, and took an additional roughing penalty. Fortunately for Bolland his teammates killed off both.
Maple Leafs burned by refs
The Red Wings got away with too many men on the ice when a player jumped off the bench before the teammate he was replacing left the ice and blocked a pass that would have sent Toronto's Mason Raymond in alone.
Life of Rielly
Rookie defenceman Morgan Rielly of the Maple Leafs was tripped driving to the net and a penalty was about to be called, but, while lying on the ice, he swatted the puck to Joffrey Lupul who scored his 22nd of the season at 18:57 of the second to make it 3-2 for Detroit.
With the season on the line, Toronto coach Randy Carlyle replaced Nazem Kadri at centre on the second line with Lupul and Raymond for the third period. Carlyle also switched Nikolai Kulemin to centre on the third line bumping Kadri to the fourth line.
Helm seals it
Helm may have sealed Toronto's playoff fate when he notched his hat trick goal at 8:38 of the third on a breakaway.
When Detroit's Johan Franzen was smacked into the boards at the Toronto bench in the first period, Kadri of the Maple Leafs grabbed his opponent's stick. That angered Franzen who slashed at the bench and nailed Lupul in the hand. Lupul played it up big time, but did not draw a penalty.
Kessel goons it up
There was a scrum after a whistle at 14:48 of the first and as a result two players -- Toronto's Phil Kessel and Detroit's David Legwand -- were sent off. Kessel has two fights in his NHL career and Legwand none. In the third period Kessel was sent off for roughing along with Detroit's Tomas Tatar.
Difference in drafting
The Red Wings are famous for grabbing star players late in the draft. They picked Pavel Datsyuk 171st in 1998 and a year later grabbed captain Henrik Zetterberg 210th. Rising star Gustov Nyquist of the Red Wings, who entered the game with 25 goals and 43 points in 48 games, was chosen in the fourth round, 121st overall, in 2008. Toronto picked before the Red Wings in that round and chose Mikhail Stefanovich who played two games with the AHL Marlies in 2010-11 and is no longer playing hockey.
Help from Marlies
The Maple Leafs summoned left-winger Jerry D'Amigo in an effort to add a little speed and sandpaper to the lineup. The Binghamton, NY, native played 19 games with the Maple Leafs in December and January scoring a goal and adding an assist.
There's losing; then there's really losing
During the Maple Leafs' seven-game losing streak, during which they fell out of a playoff spot, they held the lead for a mere 7:15 and never in the second or third period.
Mike BrophyMike Brophy brings a wealth of hockey writing and broadcasting experience to CBC Sports, having covered junior hockey for 14 years before joining The Hockey News as its senior writer for 17 years starting in 1992. Most recently, the Burlington, Ont., native worked as a writer/commentator at Rogers Sportsnet and as co-host of The Power Play on SiriusXM. Mike has written four books, including My First Goal, featuring 50 players describing their first NHL goals.