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article imageTroubled in Toronto: Playoff hopes fade in loss to Jets Special

By Dave Pitman     Apr 6, 2014 in Sports
Toronto - Emotions high after an encouraging OT win over the Boston Bruins Tuesday night, boo's rained down upon the Toronto Maple Leafs following a listless performance to the mathematically eliminated Winnipeg Jets Saturday night at the Air Canada Centre.
"We've got passionate fans, they're upset, as are we. We're just as frustrated and they voiced their displeasure. That's part of playing in a passionate market." Phaneuf told reporters, post game.
The Winnipeg Jets had their playoff hopes officially end Thursday night in a 4-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. With nothing to lose, they looked to play the spoiler in Toronto, broad-casted nationally on "Hockey Night in Canada".
"You motivate yourself in any way you can. It's a big game for them tonight. It would be fun to beat them in their own building" said Jets captain Andrew Ladd, pre-game.
After missing Tuesday's game with a lower body injury, Joffrey Lupul was inserted back into the line-up for his 600th career NHL game. James Reimer would start his first game at home since March 22nd, in relief of injured Jonathan Bernier. Evander Kane was a healthy scratch for Winnipeg, scoring just two goals in his last 18 games.
Leading all Leafs players in goals (16) and assists (13) in 28 career games against the Jets/Thrashers, Phil Kessel scored his 37th goal of the season just 2:45 into the first period. Along with gaining the early momentum, the goal tied both career highs for Kessel and Bozak - 37 goals for Kessel, 47 points for Bozak - as the Leafs got out to the early lead. The Celebration wouldn't last long, however, as Winnipeg came storming back. Controlling the puck behind the net, Michael Frolik hit Bryan Little in front of the net where he netted a wide open 23rd goal of the season. The game still very much open to win for both teams, Nazem Kadri caught a break midway through the period when Ondrej Pavalec mis-played the puck, leaving it on a platter for Kadri to finish. Lucky break for the Leafs, who looked to take the lead into the intermission. The Jets, however, had other plans. Winnipeg took control of the puck from that moment on, and would not let it go. Peppering five shots on net in the last minute of the period, Jacob Trouba chipped one over Reimer's pad off a rebound with 2.1 seconds remaining on the clock.
The second period proved to be one of the worst in recent weeks for the Leafs, being heavily out-shot in the process. The Jets dominated possession, the puck spending most of the 20 minutes in the Maple Leafs offensive zone. James Reimer held tough in the stretch, but nearing the end of the period, Tobias Enstrom's point-shot found a hole and slipped past Reimer to give the Jets a 3-2 lead. The frame would end with that score, the Jets out-shooting the Leafs 26-15.
Joffrey Lupul did not return to the game after the 2nd intermission which was bad news for a deflated Leafs team that are just 2-25-3 when trailing after two periods. Olli Jokinen put the nail in the coffin just seven minutes into the third, scoring his 18th of the year off a great pass from Blake Wheeler, leaving Reimer with no chance as the Leafs fell, being out-shot 39-15 at even strength.
Fans and Leafs players alike in disbelief, The loss left Dave Bolland with little to say following the game.
"No explanation, no," Bolland said, clearly upset. "I couldn't tell ya."
Bolland was limited to just 4:41 of playing time after the 2nd period, minutes he's not used to receiving.
"It's Randy's decision, he's the coach and you obey by it so its the way it goes…If that's what it takes then that's what it takes…"
James Reimer tried to offer his only explanation for the Leafs inability to perform when it truly mattered most.
"I can't really give you an explanation for that, for how it appeared… You could come up with a couple of excuses or something like it's been a stressful couple of weeks and maybe it just caught up to us…maybe there's not much left in the tank, I'm not quite sure. "
The Leafs net minder had taken a lot of criticism from fans and media alike for his recent play, but tonight's chorus of boo's as the players left the ice were directed toward the team in it's entirety.
"It's frustrating, we've all been fans before… You expect so much from your team and you want to win so badly that when maybe things don't go your way and maybe if you feel like they didn't give it their all, which wasn't the case here… we did, we just didn't have enough… when you feel that way, you feel jipped. They're the one paying the tickets, they have right to do whatever they want."
The change in mood was night and day from Thursday, as Dion Phaneuf admitted hopes were high prior to tonight's loss.
"We felt good about some of the things we were doing. Couple good games at home, we win that big game with Boston in OT. We came out, we started the way we wanted but they kept coming. they got that 3-2 goal, we couldn't recover."
Although not completely mathematically eliminated, the Maple Leafs playoffs chances dwindle to a meagre 2.6%, as the New Jersey Devils passed the Leafs in the standings tonight with one game in hand. Refusing to let up hope, Tyler Bozak remains optimistic.
"We still have 3 opportunities here to get some wins and put ourselves right back in it so we need to refocus."
Toronto must win their three remaining games and hope for the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey devils to fall into some bad luck down the stretch. Bad luck that resembles, say, an 8 game losing streak in regulation.
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