NIAGARA FALLS, Ont. – Jake Gardiner calls them a “tough couple weeks.”
That’s because the pain of the Game 7 loss in Boston didn’t dissipate immediately after the Toronto Maple Leafs defenceman bared his soul in front of the cameras on April 25. Even as teammates rallied around him – and supportive texts rolled in from other NHLers who saw video of Gardiner telling reporters “It’s the most important game of the season and I didn’t show up” – the sting of being on the ice for five Bruins goals against remained.
It prompted Gardiner to go searching for some answers during the off-season. The 28-year-old even decided to relive part of his forgettable performance.
“I watched some of the goals and what probably different scenarios could have happened,” Gardiner told Sportsnet at the outset of Leafs training camp. “I didn’t rewatch the game. I just saw some highlights and thought about it a few times.”
Even though the memory should be well buried by the time the puck drops again for real in a couple weeks, the way last season ended for Gardiner is worth revisiting now.
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There was some bad luck and spotty coverage in Game 7 – the worst of it coming when Jake DeBrusk blew by him on the eventual winning goal in the third period. But there was also his decision to take ownership of what happened during an emotional post-game scrum with media members in which he said “a lot of this game should be on me.”
That went a long way with teammates.
“Well it’s accountability,” said Nazem Kadri. “It takes a lot of courage to be able to come forward and say ‘Hey, I sucked.”‘
“We were all pretty down, but I think Jake really stepped up and showed a lot of leadership the way that he tried to put the onus on himself,” added Morgan Rielly. “He’s a grown man, I think he handled the situation maturely. He moved on from it and he’s ready, he looks great. You’ve just got to move on from it.”
Easily overlooked in how the season ended was how much of a positive it was for Gardiner overall. He finished with a career-high 52 points – tied with Rielly – and saw the Leafs outscore the opposition 69-55 at even strength with him on the ice despite starting more shifts in the defensive zone than he had previously in Mike Babcock’s tenure as coach.
It’s telling that the Leafs …read more