The Toronto Maple Leafs last won the Stanley Cup in 1967.
It was a time to celebrate Confederation and the team's fourth NHL title of the decade.
And yet, no Stanley Cups since then. Not even a Stanley Cup final appearance, for that matter.
That is what the Maple Leafs have become: no...no...no.
No playoffs - again. No boost after last season's post-season appearance. No happy ending to the 2013-14 season.
The misery continues.
The Leafs will be forced to watch better teams partake in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. Dropping their sixth road game in a row, 3-0 to the Lighting in Tampa Bay, sealed their fate. The loss, coupled with a Columbus Blue Jackets 4-3 overtime victory against Phoenix, means Toronto is toast.
Columbus is almost in. Toronto is out.
Amazingly, less than a month ago the Maple Leafs defeated the Los Angeles Kings 3-2 and seemed to be fully prepared to dance with the big boys. That, obviously, did not work out. They lost the next eight games and their season, for all intents and purposes, was over.
"When we came out of the California trip it seemed like we had proven to ourselves that we could compete with some of the good teams and we wanted to take the next step, but it went in the other direction for us," said coach Randy Carlyle. "We don't have the answers right now also why it happened that way."
Carlyle's sick feeling
For most of the season the Maple Leafs appeared to be playoff bound. On the night they were officially eliminated Carlyle had a sick feeling in his stomach.
"Numb and shock would be the words to describe it," he said. "Extremely disappointed, shallow, embarrassed - all those things. I think we have more than we were able to accomplish and that's the most troubling issue here. We just didn't find a way to compete on a level that was necessary."
Before the Olympic Games in Sochi the Maple Leafs seemed to be on the right path. Afterward they slumped.
They were on pace for a 95-point season pre-Sochi, and finished with a disturbing pace of 53 points after the Games.
"That's a huge drop," Carlyle said. "That's 40 points. Those statistics always make you say, 'How could that happen?' That's what we're going to have to; analyze how that happened."
Give Reimer credit
This has not been a kind season to Maple Leafs backup goalie James Reimer. When starter Jonathan Bernier went down and his team needed him to steal a game or six, he didn't do it. It wasn't all his fault.
Reimer did not play well; nor did the players in front of him. To his credit, Reimer gave his team a chance to win against Tampa Bay, but the skaters let him down. They offered no scoring support.
Will they ever learn?
The last time the Maple Leafs faced the Lightning, they ignored Tampa Bay's best player, Steven Stamkos, allowing him to score three goals in a 5-3 loss. So what happens in next game? In the opening minutes Stamkos is allowed to skate coast-to-coast by the Maple Leafs, who seemed to be in awe of him and he produced a good scoring chance.
Apparently they will
Later in the first Riemer made a huge save with Stamkos on the doorstep and then, when Stamkos had an open net, defenceman Tim Gleason was able to swat the puck away to save a goal. To be fair to Stamkos, he didn't get a good shot off.
Bishop leapt high in the air for a puck while the Maple Leafs were on the power play and immediately appeared to be in distress. He left the ice favouring his left shoulder and was replaced by Anders Lindback. Eight days before the playoffs begin, this is very bad news for the Lightning. At six-foot-six, Lindback is an inch shorter than Bishop.
Hot shot rookie
Both teams had decent chances in the first half of the game, but it was Tampa Bay rookie Ondej Palat who struck first at 9:19 of the second period firing a shot past Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson, who was screening Reimer. Hard to tell, but the puck may have hit Gunnarsson's stick. Palat is the NHL's second highest scoring freshman.
Palat made it 2-0 six minutes later, notching his 22nd of the season seven seconds after Toronto's Troy Bodie was sent off for tripping.
The kids are alright
So the Maple Leafs lost. Didn't see that coming, eh? Even so, it was refreshing to see how pumped young defecemen Morgan Rielly and Jake Gardiner were in the game. They played their hearts out. For Maple Leafs fans looking for something to take away from this season, the thought of those two players developing is, to say the least, exciting.
The Maple Leafs ended the season going 0-for-10 with the man advantage against Tampa Bay this season.
Lupul on the mend
Left-winger Joffrey Lupul underwent successful knee surgery Tuesday and is expected to start rehabbing right away. The Maple Leafs said he would be out for up to three weeks - or five months.
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