CHICAGO – Moral victories count for nothing at this point in the season.
The Leafs' effort may have improved considerably in a 5-4 loss to the Blackhawks on Wednesday night, but the result was ultimately the same: nothing gained, just the 10th loss in the last 11 games (1-9-1).
"It's not really the time of year where there's any silver lining," Joffrey Lupul told TSN.ca following the game. "We don't sit around after the game and say 'Oh, we played good.'"
"It's all about just getting the two points. Right now, we need a win, whatever way we can get it, we need a win."
Plagued by poor starts in recent weeks, the Leafs stormed out of the gate at the United Center, jumping ahead 3-1 on goals from Tyler Bozak, Lupul and Clarke MacArthur.
The Blackhawks cut the margin in half with 30 clicks left in the opening frame and then raced past their original six rivals for good with two goals in a three and a half minute spurt in the second. Ray Emery did the rest, relieving Corey Crawford with 23 saves in the final two periods.
"No excuses," a frustrated Luke Schenn said afterward. "We're just not getting the job done."
"Whether you want to say we're not playing great defensively or not chipping in the powerplay, penalty kill, scoring goals, whatever it is, just bottom line we're not getting the job done and it's frustrating."
"It feels terrible," added Lupul. "You never want to go on a skid like this, but especially not at this time of year."
"We were saying we wanted to get the lead and then we got the lead tonight and we couldn't do the job. It's definitely a frustrating feeling."
With just one win in the final three and a half weeks in February, the Leafs enter March four points back of the Capitals for the final playoff spot in the East. They have another critical matchup on deck with the Habs in Montreal on Saturday.
"There is enough time," Lupul said of the team's 18 remaining games. "Maybe not because [of] what we're doing, but other teams are losing too so we're still right there and again we need to get one game, regroup and try and put a little run together."
1. The Leafs lead evaporated in a stretch of three minutes and 33 seconds in the second period as a series of miscues in the defensive zone lead to goals from Patrick Kane and Marian Hossa. "We lost our coverage along the boards two times and they were able to walk right down the middle," head coach Ron Wilson said. "We have to do a better job of stapling people to the boards than we did in the second period. And even the first period we allowed the same thing to happen on two of their goals; they came up with the puck in battle situations where we lost the battle."
2. Struggling in particular on that note was Jake Gardiner who was on the ice for three of the first four Chicago goals. The 21-year-old was beaten out of the corner by Andrew Shaw on the first goal, outmuscled for a puck along the wall by Viktor Stalberg leading to the second goal, and was on for perhaps a bit soft on the fourth goal. All in all, just an off-night for the rookie defenceman, who logged fewer than 17 minutes, his lowest total of the New Year. "He's been our best defenceman," Wilson said. "Those things are going to happen. But if one guy makes a mistake you've got to have two and three other people in position and in couple of those situations we didn't and a breakdown ensued."
3. Lupul offered an interesting observation on the loss. "It's not making the big play at the big time," he said. "There's time in the games where you've got to score a goal, make a big play defensively and right now we're just not getting it done for whatever reason."
4. Loss after loss has made for a rather excruciating feeling in the Leaf dressing room. "We've tried having different meetings, not like inspirational, but just better talks among the guys in our dressing room, coaches, everything," Schenn explained. "Today we tried to keep it a little bit looser. We talked about having fun out there and just playing, not worrying about all the systems and everything that's going on around us. Hockey's not a job or work; it's a game and we're supposed to have fun and just go out there and play and not worry. I think we did that off the start and got off to a good start and a lead obviously. It's tough to see a lead like that slip." Bozak's 14th of the year marked just the second time in the last 10 games the Leafs have scored first.
5. Under considerable scrutiny with his team sliding Wilson deflected any notion of added pressure. "I don't look it as pressure like what you think," he said. "Pressure is when you're fighting for your life and you've got cancer or something like that. This you're trying to win hockey games." The Leafs effort on Wednesday – albeit in losing fashion – should quash any present notion of a team quitting on its coach. "Tonight I have no argument with the effort," Wilson noted. "When you put an effort like that more than likely you're going to win. Tonight we didn't."
Jonas Gustavsson was solid between the pipes with 30 saves. "I thought he was pretty good," Wilson said. "Chicago plays a scrambly game in front of you and it was difficult, but again we allowed them to come down the pipe a couple times because of mistakes along the wall."…Mikhail Grabovski failed to score for the 14th consecutive game, though he did notch an assist on MacArthur's 19th of the year…With the benefit of last change Joel Quenneville was able to match his top unit of Hossa, Kane and Andrew Brunette opposite the Leaf fourth line on both second period goals…Matthew Lombardi was a healthy scratch for the first time this season…Schenn fought Brandon Bollig in the second period, his fourth scrap this season…Bozak led all Leaf forwards in ice-time at 20:02, also finishing 14-21 (67%) in the faceoff circle.