Saturday, February 22, 2020

The Toronto Maple Leafs just lost to a freelance Zamboni driver, because of course they did

I’ve been a Leafs fan my whole life, which means I’ve seen a lot of really embarrassing losses.

I’ve seen It Was 4-1. I’ve seen them get six shots in an elimination game. I’ve seen the 12-1 loss in Pittsburgh. I’ve seen them lose 8-0 in the playoffs, at home, while fans rained garbage and jerseys on the ice. I’ve seen the paper bags. I’ve seen the waffles.

I thought I had seen it all. Then I saw the Leafs lose to a 42-year-old Zamboni driver.

This one was… well, it was different. I’m not sure yet if it’s worse. I know that’s the reaction you probably want, and maybe it’s the right one. I’m still mulling it. The competition is stiff.

Here’s the thing: Strip away all the history and the baggage and the punchlines, and you can at least kind of explain this one. The Leafs were down 3-1 when David Ayres came in midway through the second, after both Hurricanes goalies on the roster were injured to trigger the NHL’s rarely seen emergency backup goalie rule. They were down 4-1 before they got anywhere near him. Their own goaltender ended up giving up six. They were playing a really good team that knows how to squeeze the life out of a game, and went all out to do exactly that. It’s embarrassing, sure, but maybe it makes a certain kind of sense, if you ignore all the other stuff.

But you can’t ignore all the other stuff, because this is Toronto, and all the other stuff has been earned. This was a disaster. And it’s the sort of disaster that can be a turning point, not just in a season but for a team that was supposed to have been built for the long-term. This isn’t the kind of loss that you can shake off with a strong effort the next time out. This is the kind of loss that sticks.

This year’s Leafs have already had the narratives built up around them. They don’t work hard. They don’t do the little things you need to do. They put together a strong effort, like they did on Thursday against the Penguins, and then they pat themselves on the back and hang a Mission Accomplished banner and go back to doing it the easy way. They disappear when it counts, because when it counts things get hard and this team can’t handle that.

Is all of that true? Is any of it? I’m not sure it matters. Not after that game. You don’t want to be labeled as the team that chokes? Don’t choke. The Leafs choked hard against a Zamboni driver, so here we are.

So let’s start with what we know for sure: You’re going to hear about this game for a long time. If you’re a Leafs fan and you’re sick of stale It Was 4-1 jokes nearly seven years later, I have good news for you. You’re about to hear some fresh material. On the long and winding road of people all around the sports world pointing and laughing at the Toronto Maple Leafs , we just planted a new signpost.

So now what?

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

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