Two consecutive wins — and possibly three, depending on the outcome of last night’s tilt with the lowly Minnesota Wild — has some Maple Leafs fans feeling like the worst may be over for the Blue & White this season.
They may be right. Toronto goalie Jonas Gustavsson may continue his recent stellar play all year and could become the Leafs’ first Calder Trophy winner since Brit Selby was named the NHL’s top rookie in 1966.
And perhaps Phil Kessel continues his point-per-game pace and finishes an injury-shortened year with 25 goals and 70 points, proving to skeptics that there really is a contingent of young players on Toronto’s roster worth believing in.
But, this being the NHL we’re talking about, there’s always the danger of best-laid plans being brutally disrupted. And there are scenarios out there that, should they come to pass, would easily derail the Leafs’ fragile playoff hopes.
Scenario 1: Gustavsson gets bowled over in his crease by an opponent and tears ligaments in his knee, sidelining him for the season.
Scenario 2: Carrying the puck through the middle of the ice, Kessel gets blindsided by, say, Philadelphia’s Mike Richards, or Carolina’s Tuomo Ruutu, and misses the rest of the year with potentially career-ending concussion problems.
Neither of the above examples are far-fetched. In fact, we’ve seen so many of those types of incidents already this year — OK, maybe not goalies tearing ligaments, but certainly goalies being run over in their crease time and again — that the likelihood of a catastrophic injury happening to a key player are higher than ever.
Look at the Florida Panthers, a franchise that hasn’t made the playoffs the last eight seasons and that desperately needs to please its dwindling fan base. Do you think the Panthers can afford to have young sniper David Booth sidelined indefinitely by a concussion from a Richards hit three weeks ago?
Of course they can’t. But as long as the NHL refuses to properly address player safety issues, Leafs fans will never be that far away from another dose of spirit-crushing disappointment.
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