Stick a fork in them.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are now officially, mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, done in after yet another dismal outing in a 3-0 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday night.
This particular defeat caps an epic collapse by a Leafs team that had been sitting in sixth in the Eastern Conference as late as Feb. 6 – a date since which they’ve broken a franchise record with a 10-game losing streak at home and gone 5-16-3 overall.
That leaves Toronto playoff-less for a seventh consecutive season, tying them for the sixth longest drought in NHL history.
“It’s not a very good feeling to be eliminated,” Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said. “It just snowballed on us... and we just could not recover.”
Of all the low points in the Leafs recent loss-filled run, this stinker ranked right up there.
With Toronto mounting little attack, Carolina scored two quick goals late in the first period, deflecting weak shots off of defenders’ sticks and past netminder Jonas Gustavsson.
Then, to start the second, a long wrist shot from former Leaf Jay Harrison whipped over the man known as the Monster – a goal that chased him from the crease in favour of rookie Jussi Rynnas, who made his NHL debut after being called up hours earlier.
It was ugly enough that it may just mark the end of Gustavsson’s time in Toronto.
“Whatever they shot at the net seemed to find a way to go through our goaltender,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said.
That was also the end of the night’s drama, just 37 seconds into the second period. From there, the fans booed and jeered, Carlyle furrowed his already furrowed brow and his beleaguered team limped through the final 40 minutes.
By the start of the third, the Air Canada Centre was half empty, with fans finally starting to talk with their feet – even if it was deemed yet another sell out by the bean counters.
“Obviously the fans are frustrated,” Leafs winger Phil Kessel said. “The players are more frustrated than they are. We’re trying, but nothing’s going right.
“The thing is we haven't done anything good really. It’s frustrating for all of us. We’re all disappointed obviously. We wish we could win games. I don’t really know what to think.”
Looking back to a year ago, the Leafs weren’t eliminated until April 5 and after their 80th game of the season, even though, strangely enough, it was a win by the Buffalo Sabres on the out of town scoreboard doing them in both times.
Last season, however, there was plenty of optimism even in defeat, as the team had gone on an 18-7-6 run to keep them alive after a typically ugly start to the year.
This year stands as a direct reversal, with Toronto coming out of the gate 14-8-2 and really only imploding – albeit in spectacular fashion – after the all-star break.
But with only 75 points through 77 games, the Leafs will now max out at just 85 points – exactly the figure they managed last season en route to a 22nd place finish.
“To have the collapse that we’ve had and the amount of games that we’ve lost and not been able to turn it around, it’s been extremely disappointing,” Phaneuf said.
“It’s tough,” teammate Carl Gunnarsson added. “I would love to play in the playoffs here. It’s never fun losing, and it’s never fun missing the playoffs.”
The only silver lining this time around is that (a) they’ll have their own draft pick and (b) they’ll almost certainly end up lower in the standings, perhaps even far down enough that they’ll pick higher than fifth for the first time since 1989.
They have, after all, been passed by the New York Islanders and now sit mired in 26th, with three teams not all that far behind.
That’s the good news.
The bad is that general manager Brian Burke’s fourth season at the helm will end with his team once again in the league basement and with gaping holes on the roster.
They need a goaltender, they need a No. 1 centre and, given their recent showing, they need a heart transplant.
And time’s running out for Burke to work that kind of miracle in Toronto.
“We feel that this group should play to a higher level than what they’re playing to,” Carlyle said. “You’re saying why [aren’t they] Right now I haven’t got an answer for you ...
“Obviously when you don’t make the playoffs, there’s always a certain amount of change that takes place. ... There’s always going to be a lot more scrutiny put on the personnel.”