Turns out this was all part of the plan.
Not the 4-0 loss to the Florida Panthers. Rather, the decision to start goaltender Jean-Sebastien Giguere for the first time in a month. It wasn't about Giguere's decent numbers against the Panthers. Or gut calls. Or an injury to James Reimer that the Toronto Maple Leafs are trying to keep hidden. Nope - none of that.
And all that conspiracy theorist stuff that general manager Brian Burke is somehow pulling the strings to get a read on his goaltending situation going into 2011-2012?
"We know what these guys can do," head coach Ron Wilson said after his team missed a chance to pull within two points of the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. "We've been watching them all year. We've been watching Giggy 10 or 15 years in the league.
"This is about trying to make the playoffs."
Really? Wilson clearly doesn't see why sitting down the 23-year-old Reimer, who gives the Leafs a battling chance most nights and had started the last 13 games in a row including Wednesday's 36-save, 3-1 win over the Carolina Hurricances, in place of Giguere should raise eyebrows.
The Panthers scored two power-play goals in the second period after grabbing a 1-0 lead just 49 seconds into the frame when Sergei Samsonov tipped in Jason Garrison's blue-line shot. Stephen Weiss scored the first of the two extra-strength goals with a screened shot that beat Giguere and Mike Santorelli put the other one by him at 11:31, with Giguere on his butt after an initial save.
If that goal didn't sum up the Leafs effort on the night - the Panthers kept the Leafs hemmed in their own end with Dion Phanuef in the penalty box with a kneeing minor and Tyler Bozak running around without his stick, to the point where the Leafs penalty-killers couldn't switch up - then the Panthers fourth goal certainly did. Wilson pulled Giguere with five minutes left and the Panthers assessed a delay of game penalty but the Leafs couldn't manage a shot on goal, and in the end the Panthers player who served the penalty, Keaton Ellerby, jumped out and scored the goal.
"Last night (in Carolina) the power play worked for us and we got shots," said Wilson. "Tonight, I'm not sure we even got a shot on goal on the power play."
Wilson was prepared for second-guessing. He announced on Wednesday that Giguere would start - Jonas Gustavsson dressed as the backup - after pooh-poohing concerns about the rookie Reimer being tired. That was odd, since it was Wilson himself who suggested Reimer might be fatigued after he was pulled in a 6-2 loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning.
"We made up our mind before the weekend that Giggy was going to play against Florida and that's what he prepping for," said Wilson, who suggested Giguere could have had "one or two" of the goals.
"The difference might have been to change up and have Giggy play last night (in Carolina) and Reimer tonight. But Reimer wanted to get in there, and we stuck with the plan."
The Hurricanes attempted 84 shots in Wednesday's game and, Wilson said, "that's a lot of up and down," for Reimer. "And you don't know what to expect with your own team," Wilson added. "Without any energy, they could have kept pounding away. You drain the tank."