WASHINGTON D. Wholesale NFL Jerseys USA .C. – Randy Carlyle, for one, would like to know where such an effort was hiding. Though they dropped their fourth consecutive game in the U.S. capital on Friday night – and 21st in 32 games since the start of November – the Maple Leafs finally played with the fight that had been mysteriously missing in recent days and, really, for the better part of a disappointing season. "Weve been begging, pleading, kicking, kissing, whatever we can do to try and find a way that we can play with some confidence," said Carlyle after a 3-2 loss to the Capitals. "This might be one of the better games weve played in a month. We showed desperation. We showed that we care [and] when we put our effort and our heart into it that there is more in that room than whats been displayed and thats whats been frustrating everybody – and theyre frustrated also." Still embarrassed from their second blowout loss in the past three games – a 6-1 pounding in Carolina just a night earlier – the Leafs at last competed with the necessary gumption and fire that was noticeably absent all week. Why it took so long to materialize and where it had been hiding was a "mind-boggling" and befuddling point for the Leafs head coach. His team was cleaner, crisper and a considerable contrast to the apparent mess that materialized against the Rangers and Hurricanes. A few mistakes and two unlucky bounces – both the Capitals game-tying and game-winning goals deflected off Toronto skates – ultimately saw a third period lead unravel, but there was, nonetheless, an air of cautious optimism afterward. "I think we played harder," said Dion Phaneuf, leading the team with 24 minutes. "No one likes to be embarrassed the way that we were." "We knew we needed it," David Clarkson added of the improved effort. "Weve got to find ways to compete like that every night. Compete. Compete. Win our battles and well be okay." It was the smallest of steps – they still lost for one thing – but a needed step no less for a team thats been light on optimism in the past two months. An unpredictable animal all year, what remains in question is how the Leafs respond when they host the Devils on Sunday night. Inconsistency has been the defining identity of the club so far. One good effort has only rarely translated into two. In fact, Toronto has won back-to-back games in regulation just once since the start of November. The reality of such a lengthy slide has seen them fall out of a playoff position for the first time all season in recent days, now 10th in the East with 47 points. "We need to start to churn some points for our hockey club to feel good about ourselves," said Carlyle, who felt his team was harder to play against, more physical and tighter defensively against the Capitals. "Theres not a lot of easy breathing taking place around our group right now. Thats the reality of it. But thats what happens when you dont have success." "Its not great when youre losing," Clarkson said. "But this is the part [of the season] that were going to have to rally together. Were going to have to find ways to get wins. I think if we play like we did tonight against every single team, I think well be fine." Five Points 1. Source of Trouble Carl Gunnarsson pointed to the Leafs inconsistency, night to night, period to period, shift to shift, as the source of a troubling first half. "Some nights the forecheck has been great and the day after, its been not as good," he said moments before Fridays game. "Its been just inconsistent all over. The only thing thats been good throughout the year, I think the goaltending has been great from both guys back there. They saved us in a bunch of games." Gunnarsson said the team could work well within its respective system, but failed to do so with any semblance of consistency. "When we do it well it works," he said. "So its just a matter of doing it every night, every shift, not only for every other night or 20, 40 minutes per game, its not enough. Its got to be every night and for 60 minutes." 2. The More Consistent Option in Goal Making his seventh start in the past eight games, Jonathan Bernier returned to the form that saw him gripping hold of the crease before a pair of losses earlier this week. The 25-year-old stopped 32 of 35 shots in defeat. Though he and his counterpart, James Reimer, have been equals for the better part of the season, Bernier has certainly proven the more consistent of the two, though Reimer has been dealt his fair share of bad hands, including Thursdays lackluster effort in Carolina. As the table below indicates, Berniers performance has fluctuated only slightly all season. Goaltender Oct. Nov. Dec. Jan. Bernier .933 .923 .932 .896 Reimer .949 .916 .909 .852 3. Gardiner Sitting for just the second time all season on Thursday night, Jake Gardiner was back in the Toronto lineup against the Capitals, paired with 19-year-old Morgan Rielly for the third time this season. "I thought that was one of Jakes best performances," Carlyle said of Gardiner, who played just under 20 minutes. "He moved the puck, he skated, he didnt turn it over, he made a lot of good plays. Thats what were looking for from him every night." Carlyle hadnt been happy with the 23-year-olds performance against the Rangers and Islanders, pulling him from the lineup in Carolina. "Thats the trials and tribulations of a young player," Carlyle continued. "We know Jake Gardiner has NHL-quality skills, but we believe that theres something there that takes him out of that after four or five games. Whatever that is weve got to find a way to correct that." Of note, Carlyle had Gardiner on the third pairing alongside Rielly, rather than the second grouping with Cody Franson where hes played the better part of the season with inconsistent success. 4. Opting for Optimism Rather than inflame the misery of a perilous slide on Friday morning, Carlyle opted to point out the positives of losses to the Hurricanes and Islanders. "[We] tried to focus on some of the things that were doing well in [Thursday] nights game and some of the games [recently]," said Carlyle after Fridays game. 5. End of a Cold Spell? James van Riemsdyk had his first multi-point outing in more than a month on Friday. Scoring for just the third time in the past 16 games, his 16th this season, while adding a helper on Phil Kessels 21st goal of the season, van Riemsdyk had a pair of points in the same game for the first time since Dec. 7. He sits second on the team in scoring with 33 points in 44 games. "Theres always going to be challenges throughout the year," the 24-year-old said, speaking generally about the team. "Its about how you respond to that. Theres going to be no sulking done by us, throwing a pity party or feeling sorry for ourselves. We know what we need to do. I think the effort tonight was a good response with how we kind of laid an egg [Thursday] night." Stats-Pack 4 – Goals in the past 19 games for James van Riemsdyk, who scored his 16th this season on Friday. 19:33 – Ice-time for Jake Gardiner against Washington. 11-16-5 – Leafs record since the start of November. 22 – Points in the past 32 games for Phil Kessel, who had 18 points in October alone. 6 – Fights this season for Colton Orr, who dueled with John Erskine on Friday. 12 – Points in the past 10 games for Tyler Bozak, who has 18 points in 22 games this season. Special Teams Capsule PP: 1-3 Season: 21.7% (5th) PK: 4-4 Season: 77.5% (27th) Quote of the Night "Weve been begging, pleading, kicking, kissing, whatever we can do to try and find a way that we can play with some confidence." -Randy Carlyle, following the 3-2 defeat in Washington. Up Next The Leafs host the Devils in yet another Sunday night affair at the ACC. Cheap College Jerseys . No, the San Antonio star didnt announce retirement plans during an off day at the NBA Finals on Wednesday. Wholesale NFL Jerseys . I kept my eyes focused up on the camera during each approach. I just tried to stay focused on my form, as I didnt know what the ball reaction was. I was quite emotional at the end. I did not actually see any of the shots in the game until I got home and watched the video. https://www.cheapnfljerseysjustwholesale.com/cheap-mlb-jerseys . In Englands first game since its worst-ever World Cup showing, Roy Hodgsons side rarely looked like scoring against unambitious opposition and the breakthrough in the friendly only came when Raheem Sterling was tripped in the penalty area.OKLAHOMA CITY -- Serge Ibaka walked slowly and carefully, but without a limp, before facing reporters Saturday afternoon. Much has been made of the Oklahoma City defensive stars absence in the first two games of the Western Conference finals series against the San Antonio Spurs. The 6-foot-10 power forward strained his left calf in the previous playoff series, and the Thunder said they expected him to be out for the playoffs. The team changed course Friday and declared him day-to-day. He worked out Saturday, but he didnt practice before addressing the media for the first time since his outlook changed. With Ibaka, the leagues leading shot blocker, the Thunder were one of the best defensive teams the NBA. Without him, the Spurs shot at least 50 per cent in the first two games of the Western Conference Finals and won them by a combined 52 points. As he stood for the five-minute session wearing a black compression sock over the calf, he deflected claims that he could be a saviour heading into Game 3 on Sunday. "Ive been hearing a lot of people saying my team lost two games because I was out," he said. "Thats not true. I believe in my guys. I believe in my teammates. They can be better with me or without me. Its no excuse because Serge Ibaka was not there. Just San Antonio, the first two games, they played better basketball." Ibaka said he sometimes screamed at his television set when he watched scenarios in which he could have made plays during the losses. He is not sure if he will play in Game 3 -- he said it is up to doctors, and much will depend on how he feels in the morning. For now, he will depend largely on rest, ice and luck. His presence is needed, even if he is less than fully healthy. Kendrick Perkins, Nick Collison and Perry Jones have struggled against the Spurs big men. Kevin Durant, normally a small forward, has played some power forward in the series because of Ibakas absence, and his relative lack of physical strength and unfamiliarity with playing post defence has been exploited. The Spurs prepared all along as though he would return. "It gives them another hell of a player," Spurs coach Gregg Popovich said, "but we are who we are and weve got to be who we are. We cant change what we do." Even if Ibaka returns, it will not fully solve Oklahoma Citys problems defending the perimeter. San Antonio has made 18 of 40 3-pointers in the series and guards Tony Parker annd Manu Ginobili are slashing into the paint with stunning frequency, often scoring or finding their teammates for open shots. Cheap Nike NFL Jerseys. . The Thunder say it starts with basics. "Its just an individual effort," Perkins said. "Got to put it in your mind that you want to stop the guy in front of you, and thats it. Backside got to be ready. But the thing is when they penetrate, thats what opens those threes. Well do a better job of keeping the ball in front of us, but weve just got to be individual and youve got to want the match up." To be fair, San Antonio shares the ball like no one else. The Spurs led the league with 25.4 assists per game during the regular season. That average is up to 27.5 against Oklahoma City. Parker and Ginobili generate many of the assists, but many others come from simple ball movement. "We dont have a Durant," Ginobili said. "We dont have a Kobe (Bryant) or LeBron (James) that can go one against one and finish every single time. We need to pass the ball to find open teammates, and thats what we do, and thats what weve been doing. We all feel proud about it. We know when we have 25 assists or 30, we are much better and we try to do that every time." Because the Spurs generally have five capable scorers on the floor at a time, it forces opponents to have a greater attention to detail than usual. "Theyve got threats," Durant said. "Everybody on their team is a threat because of their offence. They move the ball. Theyve got 3-point shooters. You take away 3-point shooters, they get the role guys and they get the paint points. You take away that and they start hitting the threes. So we have to do both. We have to be able to close the paint up and get out to shooters. Easier said than done, but we can do it." The Spurs are off to a good start, but experience tells them they wont have as easy a time in Oklahoma City. And in 2012, Oklahoma City fell behind San Antonio 2-0 in the Western Conference finals before winning the series 4-2. "Weve got to know that in their arena its going to be different," Ginobili said. "Theyre going to be way more aggressive, theyre going to be pushed by their fans. We just won two games. They are going to make more shots, they are going to attack harder, they are going to go to the free-throw line more.So, there are a lot of things that they can do much better and were not going to make as many shots." ' ' '