Very decisively Shanahan set out to reshape this organization and the fruits of his labor were on showcase last night. The game was pivotal on a couple of fronts, it gave the Maple Leafs the opportunity to give themselves some breathing room between them and the Islanders/Lightning who were both on the Maple Leafs heals for the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Also it was an opportunity for the franchise to sweep the season series with the Boston Bruins and rid themselves of the ghost of their previous failures against the Bruins and now find themselves behind the Bruins by one point for third in the division with a game in hand. For more on this check out the last blog Target: Boston Bruins
The Maple Leafs played one of their best games all season in front of the home crowd, even though the score clock wasn’t working, the Maple Leafs came out fighting for every inch of ice with the much more experienced Bruins team. The rookies didn’t back down either, Marner setting up Reilly’s game tying goal at the 14:05 mark of the first, to William Nylander icing the game with one of the two empty net goals to seal the game. When the final buzzer went, the Maple Leafs had won 4-2 and the real possibility of making the playoffs this season just improved immensely.
No one could have predicted the rise up the standings this year’s team has made, or how quickly prospects like Matthews, Marner and Nylander would have in their first full NHL season. These three prospects all drafted under the careful eye of Shanahan, Mark Hunter and Lou Lamoriello. Each have made their mark and are the foundation for the house Shanahan built. The keeper of the house is Mike Babcock who has coached this team through the lows of a difficult start to the highs of an amazing run in December and January which can take their toll on a young team.
There are still improvements that need to be made, let’s not forget just last summer alone the Maple Leafs solidified their goaltending and their need for a true number one center when they acquired Frederik Andersen in a trade, and drafted Auston Matthews. Yet even with some parts missing this has become the most exciting and hopeful season in years. The final 11 games are now set to bigger and bigger as the season closes out.
I was never a proponent of having this season be another throw away season, with so many rookies that could easily be influenced or discouraged by the acceptance of a losing culture was a risk I was never willing to take. The Maple Leafs front office staff never indicated that the playoffs were a thought or goal, but you have to admire how they pushed this team to succeed every night, give a good effort and let the results speak for themselves.
No matter how this season ends, even if the Maple Leafs lose in the first round should they make the playoffs, this season has been a success and we are seeing the foundation of the house Shanahan built, and how it is set for what should be one of the most exciting, hopeful and successful runs in Toronto Maple Leaf history.
Next up for the Maple Leafs is tomorrow night against the Columbus Bluejackets in what will be another tough test with the need to maximize points in each of their final games as they continue to solidify themselves in the final playoff spot.