OTTAWA – For Randy Carlyle and the Toronto Maple Leafs it was about respect.
“For periods of time there's been a lot of, I'd say, sand kicked in the face of the people of Toronto and hopefully this gives them something to stand up and cheer for,” said Carlyle.
His team erased a drought that's been gnawing at the city of Toronto for nine long years. With a scrappy and at times ugly 4-1 victory over the Senators in the nation's capital the Leafs sealed their fate, clinching a long-starved spot in the postseason on Saturday evening.
Outshot 50-22 and outplayed in considerable stretches by the pesky Senators, the Leafs nonetheless found a means to victory, however rocky the path may have been.
In clinching the winning hand at ScotiaBank Place they required another near seal-proof effort from James Reimer and they got it. The 25-year-old rarely had a quiet moment against a flurry of Ottawa attacks, stopping 49 of 50 shots, including all 15 in the final frame to preserve the win and ultimately seal his team's fate.
“Most of the players here, we don't carry the burden of the nine years or whatever it's been,” Reimer said of a spell in the playoff wilderness which has lingered since 2004. “For me, this is my third year so for two years we didn't make the playoffs. That's pressure enough for us as athletes, we want to be the best and we want to play in the playoffs, play to have a chance to win. But obviously the fans and the city, they've been waiting awhile.”
In the moments after their first victory this season, Carlyle spoke to the need for his club to “earn respect back” for an organization that had become “the butt of jokes in the hockey world”. In sealing a position in the postseason, they've taken the first meaningful step toward doing so.
“It's been a drought for our hockey club and again we just refer back to respect,” the Leafs coach concluded. “We're trying to earn respect back for our group. That to me is the most important thing. For us to qualify now it's a feather in the players' caps for the all the work they've put in.”
1. Perfect in Ottawa
With a 49-save performance Reimer remained perfect in the capital city, now 6-0-0 for his career with a ridiculous 0.85 goals against average and .977 save percentage, video game numbers that boggle the mind.
“Reims has been real good,” said Carlyle, while chiding the rebound control of his young goaltender with a grin, “especially in this building he's been real strong.”
A review of Reimer's career efforts against the Senators at ScotiaBank Place (saves/shots):
January 11, 2011: 32/33
April 2, 2011: 23/25
February 4, 2012: 49/49
March 17, 2012: 29/30
March 30, 2013: 31/31
April 20, 2013: 49/50
2. Erasing the question mark?
A year-long question mark in the Toronto crease, Reimer continues to build a case for his legitimacy. Boasting a record of 18-6-5 this season, the Manitoba native holds a .926 save percentage which ranks sixth among goaltenders with at least 20 starts. In spite of his increasingly impressive efforts, he is well-aware that the questions won't soon diminish, this most recent performance coming just weeks after a deadline day frenzy for Miikka Kiprusoff ended quietly.
“In the market we're in and the situation we're in I think that it'll be awhile before goaltending and all that will ever go away,” Reimer said, managing a grin. “For me, I just don't worry about it. I'm happy with how I'm playing, I'm happy with how the team is playing and that's all I really care about. Maybe the rumours have quieted down now, but who knows what's going to be coming around the corner so you can never really worry too much about it.”
3. Playoff chatter
Carlyle assumed his group understood the implications of Saturday's affair, but dared not bring it up in conversation before the game.
“We didn't tell them,” Carlyle noted. After John Tavares sealed an Islanders victory with the shootout winner in Winnipeg, all that was required for the Leafs to clinch a playoff spot was a win in either regulation or overtime and while there was definite chatter in the dressing room, none of it was emanating from Carlyle and the coaching staff.
“I never liked that when it was happening to me that ‘if we did this or if we did that we'd be qualifying',” Carlyle recalled of his playing days. “You let the chips fall where they may and at the end of the night you figure it out.”
4. Kadri in April
Kadri scored his first goal of the month and 18th this season against the Senators, tied with James van Riemsdyk, who potted a pair on Saturday, for the team lead. The 22-year-old hadn't scored in eight games, his longest drought of the season that lingered back to March 30, when he notched his second hat trick of the season in this very building, then a 4-0 victory for the Leafs.
“Tonight he displayed the skills that he has and he found the back of the net,” Carlyle said.
5. Sunny skies ahead
Outshot for the 10th consecutive game and really outplayed by the Senators, who had their four-game win streak snapped, the Leafs are in need of some definite refinements as they approach the postseason.
While they managed victory against Ottawa, many of the glaring deficiencies from a recent three-game slide were on display. They again managed little pressure in the offensive zone – save, in some instances, for the top line of Kessel, van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak – turned pucks over, took ill-timed penalties, spent large chunks of the evening on retreat in the defensive zone and have now been outshot 157-86 over the past four games. They'll have three days off before taking on the Lightning in Tampa on Wednesday night.
Rather than fly back to the cold of Toronto, however, the team departed immediately for the state of Florida after Saturday's game, set to spend Sunday golfing in the sunshine, a hearty dose of work ahead on Monday.
Quote of the Night
“It's going to be pretty insane. They've been waiting a long time and we have too. We're just as eager as the fans are.”
-Nazem Kadri on playoffs coming to the city of Toronto for the first time since 2004.
9: Years since the Leafs last made the postseason.
86-157: Shot differential between the Leafs and their opponents over the past four games.
14: Points for Phil Kessel in April. Kessel now has 48 points in 45 games this season, good for seventh best in the NHL.
12-7-3: Road record.
4-1: Final record versus Ottawa this season.
5: Goals for Nazem Kadri versus Ottawa this season.
14: Games without a goal for Clarke MacArthur.
24:01: minutes for Mark Fraser, a season-high which also led the team.
Up Next: The Leafs hit the second leg of a three-game trip, visiting the Lightning in Tampa on Wednesday night.