If Curtis Joseph has indeed played his last game as a Toronto Maple Leaf – or as an NHLer for that matter – he certainly went out in style Wednesday night.
Joseph stopped 32 shots and was the first star in the Maple Leafs 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers to record his 454th career victory, but was it his last? With No. 1 man Martin Gerber returning from serving a three-game suspension and with the Leafs having just five games remaining this season, Joseph may have played his last game this season.
Joseph turns 42 years old at the end of this month and is currently the oldest goaltender in the NHL by a significant margin, but if he has any say in the matter, the win wasn’t his last for the Maple Leafs.
“I would like to keep playing as long as I’m healthy and contributing at a high level,” Joseph said. “I want to continue for sure. And this is where I want to be. To put the Maple Leaf on is a special, special feeling.”
But there undoubtedly was some sense of possible finality to Joseph’s effort Wednesday night. He certainly seemed caught up in the moment and basked in the glow of being the game’s first star. The thought that it might be his last game didn’t cross his mind, but he knows his time is limited.
“Every game is special at this point,” Joseph said. “I’m very grateful for my career at this stage.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson said Gerber will play the back-to-back games Friday in Philadelphia and Saturday at home to Montreal and said Joseph might play one of the two games April 7 and 8, but wouldn’t commit to starting Joseph in any of the final five games.
If Joseph does not play in any of the Leafs final games, he faces an uncertain future. His contract with the Maple Leafs runs out after this season and even though Justin Pogge has been spotty in his appearances with the Leafs, they may want to bring him in as Vesa Toskala’s backup next season or look elsewhere for a backup. Joseph said if that’s the case, he’d be willing to pick up and play in another city again next season.
“That’s certainly a possibility,” he said.
One of the all-time great goalies in Leaf history, Joseph never won a Cup in Toronto, but has always been a fan favorite. His recent play has given Joseph a reason to smile in a season that has been difficult both professionally and personally. Joseph and his wife split before the season and those who know Joseph well said it has naturally affected him.
“I think his personal life is a little more settled now than it was earlier,” Wilson said. “The most important player you have is your goaltender and he has to play clutter-free in his mind and, unfortunately for CuJo, early in the season that wasn’t the case for him.”