Ron Wilson has tried team building exercises, dodgeball, making players watch from the press box or the bench, and even criticizing them in the media to get his team back in the win column. Funnily enough the answer was staring him right in the face, in form of Matt Stajan. Rally helmets, WHO KNEW!
Saturday night The Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the The Washington Capitals 2-1 in a SHOOT-OUT. That's right leaf fans, a shout-out. It was a game of firsts. It was the Leafs first win in six games. The first win against the first place Washington Capitals. The first win for Vesa Toskala this season and his first win since Febuary of 26th of last season. It was the first time this season the Leafs have gone to over time and won. It was the first time they've won in a shoot-out this year. This was the first time the rally helmets have made an appearance this year, and for the first time they worked.
Don't listen to Ron Wilson. The coach of The Toronto Maple Leafs says the helmets had nothing to do with the win. He says it was just bit of fun Matt Stajan suggested prior to the shoot-out. Don't believe him. Those things work. Wilson just doesn't want us to know this because it could mean he can be replaced by an equipment manager.
In all seriousness, it was just a bit of fun. The fact is, any idea in that vein would have had the same effect. It wiped the usual somber looks off the the players bench and removed some of the tension usually present prior to a Leaf shoot-out. For a few moments, they were allowed to have fun and pretend this is just a game. They responded with two nice shoot-out goals. The first was by Phil Kessel, his first in 2 attempts. The other was scored by Niklas Hagman, a nifty little backhanded deek. Vesa Toskala was equally good stopping Ovechkin and Fehr. Vesa was so intimidating, he caused Fehr's stick to break, and Ovechkin's shot to completely miss him and the net. Yes Matt Stajan, "the hockey gods where with you"
The most important "first" coming out of this game was it was the first time Leaf fans could say they got their monies worth since they beat Detroit at home two weeks ago. After losing the "Battle of Ontario" to Ottawa, and the Battle for last place to Carolina, this was a most welcome surprise for fans paying more to see their team play than any other in the league.
I would be remiss if I didn't add a few new negatives to this post. Unfortunately it's becoming a bit of a trademark for me and this team. Washington entered last nights game with a few key injuries. They were missing two regular defensemen, Shaonne Morrisonn, and Tom Poti, and forwards Mike Knuble and Alexander Semin. The impact of being without two such talents up front should be easy to fathom for Leaf fan, as they've been without like players for too long and the results are self-evident...(Phil Kessel excluded of course). Washington did lack jump and even Ovechkin mentioned he thought his team looked tired. Even with that they did manage two goal posts in the third that probably would have caused panic among the Leafs and cemented a win for the Caps. We also can't forget Hagman's goal. While it did result from good hustle and the presence of mind of going to the net without the puck, it was also the result of a fortunate bounce off of a Washington defender and Hagman's shoulder.
Having said this, a win is a win and the Leafs should receive full marks for it. Vesa Toskala was good, very good in fact. The team had jump and outplayed their opponent again. They threw everything but water bottles at Varlamov and were stymied all night. They didn't give up however. They continued their hustle into overtime and finally found a way to beat him in the shoot-out. Not an easy accomplishment given Varlamov's outstanding record in extra time. Leaf fans got their monies worth and Wilson and the boys got the win! Hopefully they can build on it and provide us with more of the same excitement they gave us last night.
Click below and check-out last night's game in a nutshell.