Randy Carlyle called it being “hit between the eyes with a hammer.”
But the immediate message from the Toronto Maple Leafs head coach to his players is they should not spend their summer moping about the epic collapse in the third period of Game 7 of their NHL playoff series against the Boston Bruins last Monday. Both the coach and Leafs general manager David Nonis plan to reinforce that thought over the summer, to eliminate the disaster from the players’ psyches.
“We have to find a way of flushing that memory out of our system, because if we dwell on that for the next three months, we’re not going to be prepared for October,” Nonis said Thursday at a season-ending press conference.
At the same time, Carlyle said, none of the players should forget how they blew a 4-1 lead in the third period, coughing up two goals in the last two minutes and then losing 5-4 in overtime. A lesson forgotten is a failure repeated – not that Carlyle expects anyone to let them forget this one.
“The only thing I said to [the players] is, it will take some time,” he said. “Time will heal this, but we can never forget it.
“This is one of the things we will – and I’m sure [the media] will be bringing this up on a regular basis next year. How can you ignore it? You can’t. It’s a reality.
“We can’t change what just happened. You take what you can from the positives of this year and reflect on the negatives. You can’t just turn the page and move 180 degrees in the other direction without having some touch with the past. Do we want to dwell on it? No, we don’t. We’re going to move on.”
Usually, there is not much contact between coaches and players over the summer, once exit interviews are conducted and the expectations for each player are laid out. But Carlyle and Nonis are concerned enough about the effects of the loss to the Bruins lingering that there will be at least some communication.
Carlyle said the players will be surveyed on their likes and dislikes about this season and the coaches will give them the information they need to get past the loss. Then, when training camp starts in September, he said: “it’s a clean slate.”
Besides, Carlyle added, given the vagaries of player contracts, free agency and other personnel matters, not everyone who was part of that playoff series will be back.
Three days after the night to remember, only goaltender James Reimer would admit to watching a replay of the entire game the next day. Centre Tyler Bozak, who had to watch it in the first place because he was out with a biceps injury, had no plans to do so.
“I wouldn’t have done that,” he said. “Some guys work differently. I probably won’t ever watch it. I already watched it. I didn’t get to play in it, so I probably won’t ever watch it again.”
Bozak said there isn’t much group therapy going on among the players, either.
“We haven’t really talked about it,” he said. “I think everyone’s trying not to talk about it and just not watch the sports channels right now. I’m sure we’re going to see that one for years to come.
“You can’t sit and dwell on it. There’s nothing you can do now. You just have to live in the future.”
However, Carlyle admitted he and his assistant coaches have second-guessed themselves a lot over decisions as the team melted down. There are regrets about not calling a timeout after the second or third Bruins goals, but he felt it was not necessary at that point because there were a couple of television timeouts at the same time and the Bruins had also called one.
In retrospect, Carlyle said, he should have called a timeout to get his players to get back to their fore-checking game or used the television timeout to do so. After Nathan Horton scored to cut the Leafs’ lead to 4-2, they stopped skating.
“We could have done something a little more aggressive,” he said. “Just to get ourselves going instead of just receiving. We didn’t really move or attack at all and we’re an attacking hockey club.
“That’s the one thing we talked about as a coaching staff. The adjustment we should have done in that situation, and this is always easy after the fact, is we should have had our players attack.”