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leafs beat

James Reimer reaches back to keep the puck from crossing the goal lineKirk Irwin/Getty Images

The end is, mercifully, in sight.

And the Toronto Maple Leafs have certainly found a unique way of crawling there.

The Leafs lost again on Wednesday night, in their 81st game of the season, and that wasn't a surprise. They were steamrolled by Columbus 5-0, part of another embarrassment of a game where another already eliminated team showed up and Toronto simply didn't.

"It is embarrassing," captain Dion Phaneuf said afterward.

"Our team wasn't prepared to start the game," lamented coach Peter Horachek.

In the long run, for the Leafs rebuild, all these losses is a good thing, as they're almost guaranteed to go into next week's draft lottery in fourth spot, with a 9.5-per-cent chance at Connor McDavid.

In the short run, however, it sure is ugly.

What follows is a brief portrait of how deep the abyss has been since December…

The Leafs finished their road schedule on Wednesday going 1-21-3 in their last 25 games. They were outscored an unbelievable 83-32 in those games, which means they lost by an average of more than two goals per game.

(The only win in that span was against the Panthers in a game in which both Florida goaltenders were hurt and goalie coach Robb Tallas nearly dressed in relief.)

Overall, Toronto has won only 11 of its last 50 games (11-35-4) heading into the season finale against the Canadiens on Saturday.

They have won only six of their last 50 games in regulation – an almost unthinkable drought.

That stretch doesn't include a 6-2 loss to Buffalo in November that was followed by a 9-2 loss to Nashville that was followed by the team's disgruntled leaders declining to salute the home fans after their next win due to some ill-founded malice.

Yes, that was before things went sour.

It was an ominous sign.

Minus an inexplicable 10-1-1 run after that week of dysfunction, the Leafs have played at a 47-point pace this season, well below what last place Buffalo has managed in a season Sabres management entered intending to lose as many games as possible.

What's remarkable about the Leafs is that the "teardown and tank" only entered the equation in midseason – and they still pulled it off in remarkable fashion.

In the end, this roster was much, much better at being bad than anything else.

How did a team that started the year 19-9-3 turn into this? Well, they were obviously never as good as that streak indicated, for one. Their 12-game run was filled with some improbable wins thanks to terrific goaltending performances and a lot of timely goals, driving them to a league-leading shooting percentage (11.4 per cent) to start the year.

Remember Leo Komarov's hot streak, with nearly a point-a-game?

Or when Tyler Bozak was one of the highest scoring players in the NHL?

Twenty-one of those first 31 games were at home, which also helped. And the toughest part of their schedule was always going to be mid-December to late January, a season-killing 13-game stretch during the world juniors and after that included road games in Chicago, Tampa, Boston, Minnesota, Winnipeg, Los Angeles, Anaheim, San Jose and St. Louis.

They won one of those nine: A narrow shootout victory on New Year's Eve over the Bruins, an ugly game where the Leafs had two shots on goal in the third period and overtime.

They didn't win again on the road for more than two months.

Management fired Randy Carlyle in the midst of that tailspin hoping they could turn things around. Instead, the slump deepened, as the team's roster proved unable to adapt to a radically different system that was designed to try and correct some of their defensive deficiencies.

By February, with the playoffs well out of view, the Leafs began shipping out key parts. The already-fragile confidence of the veteran core sank further, especially when a report surfaced that Brendan Shanahan had told the MLSE board that he intended to trade the lot of them.

Know they were unwanted, they marched lethargically to the trade deadline.

Many expected to be dealt. Instead, they were forced to stay and play out the string as part of the zombie roster the Leafs had become, with discarded parts from better teams grafted into the lineup.

A month of losing became two. Then three.

Fifty games later, they're here: all-but guaranteed to finish 27th.

If the Leafs lose in regulation on Saturday, they'll wind up with the fewest points in an 82-game season in franchise history and the fewest in a full season in nearly 25 years.

If there's comfort in that, it's that this was partly by design, as at least in the executive suite, they were trying to pull things apart and watch it implode.

That they succeeded beyond their wildest dreams speaks to what was there in the first place.

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