“You want to stay in the hunt, stay right in the middle of the pack. You guys know and we know the last 20 games are really hard to make up points. It seems like when you are chasing someone, no one gives up easy points. We want to make our good push at the end again.”
Never mind, even for a nanosecond, that the Maple Leafs have a new coach in Randy Carlyle.
Carlyle side-stepped a question on Saturday morning at his introductory news conference in Montreal about whether he could make enough of a difference to get the Leafs to the playoffs. For Carlyle, it was paramount to simply think about the game against the Canadiens.
Carlyle has been around the NHL long enough to know it would have been foolish, at best, to make any proclamations about the post-season.
A quick glance at the standings and it’s easy to see why.
Yes, the Leafs are only five points out of a spot in the Eastern Conference. But thanks to their free fall, they went into Saturday night having to jump past three teams — the Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres — just to get to eighth. Keeping your fingers crossed and hoping that the teams ahead of you lose lots of hockey games is no situation a team wants to find itself in. Yet that’s where the Leafs are today.
The quote above was spoken by Clarke MacArthur back on the night of Dec. 23, after the Leafs had beaten the Islanders in New York in the final game before the Christmas break. Even then, the players knew that each point was crucial.
Now, their words must haunt them. Carlyle is a fine hockey coach, and could one day guide the Leafs to a Stanley Cup.
But he can’t work miracles, and it’s going to take one for the Leafs to earn a berth in the 2012 playoffs.