Well, the Stanley Cup Finals are almost here, and I thought that with my very first post I ought to do something of a tribute to playoffs of the past. Being a Leaf fan, there hasn't been much to get excited about lately, so let's take a stroll down memory lane, back to a time when the Leafs were a playoff team, and people in Toronto actually wore their Leaf jerseys in public. So, with a wink and a nod to DownGoesBrown and PensionPlanPuppets for their daily inspiration, here goes nothing...
I have some really good memories from Game One. The first, and most obvious, is 1993; Dougie's wraparound on Cujo in double overtime, round 2, against St. Louis. Another is Peter Zezel's OT goal against the Canucks, round 3, the next year. Always liked the Big Zee, even if he kicked the puck more then he played it with his stick. Leafs were up 1-0 and I thought they were headed to the Finals. They lost the next four games.
Let's see... I also remember the Eagle letting in a 60-foot slapper from God! Was that also '94?
Fast forward a few years: 2001 Leafs and Sens, first round, Game 1, in Ottawa. I had the seriously horrific misfortune of having to live in Ottawa for a couple years. I actually tried to like Ottawa, but Ottawa didn't like me. I'd meet people and they'd say, "oh you're from Toronto? Toronto sucks, loser!"
I bought a Sens hat to fit in. I began to feel bitter, frustrated. Simple-minded. I started to think of people who could speak eloquently as "arrogant". When the Sens made the playoffs, I bought tickets. They were easy to get! As it turned out, they had to play the Leafs. So, I took off my Sens hat, put on my Borschevsky jersey and rediscovered a much more satisfying way of looking at the world: Love your team. Don't spend all your energy hating the other guys. Just be true to your own team. To Love is to Honour.
Anyway, Sundin's OT goal was a beauty to make it 1-0. It was awesome to be there, to be one of the Leaf supporters ragin' it, while the Sens fans sat there, silent and embarrassed. So bitter. So frustrated. And so began The Catastrophe, as they called it, that would become a 4-game sweep.
I guess as far as Game One memories go, that's the best one. Don't really remember Mogilny's "first career playoff hatrick" in 2003. It's been a while since...
(trails off sadly without an ending)
Something about Game Two that's much less memorable then Game One. Here's a list of games I should be able to remember: 1994, round 1, Todd Gill scores in OT. Leafs take 2-0 lead over Chicago. 2001, first round, 3-0 shutout of the Senators. Leafs up, 2-0. 2002, Sens again, secound round this time, Sir Gary Roberts scores in triple overtime. Leafs win, 3-2, tie the series, 1-1. 2004, and yup, it's Ottawa getting shutout, 2-0. Leafs even the series, 1-1. (In 24 playoff games from 2000 to 2004, the Leafs blanked the Senators 7 times! Just sayin', is all...)
Predictably, the most distinct memories of Game Two are from '93. Round 1, Game Two is exactly like Game One. Red Wings hammer the Leafs. Watching the game is like enduring 3 hours of rockets going off in a hot tub. 2nd round, Game Two is exactly like Game One, double overtime against the Blues, except this time Dougie doesn't do the backwards-wraparound-spin-o-rama-thing. Not sure why.
3rd round, Game Two. L.A. Kings. I actually got to go to this game. Here's where the story begins: My buddy and I were both heavy smokers. Maple Leaf Gardens had just introduced a smoking ban in the entire building. With the game tied in the 3rd period, my buddy says he can't take the tension, he's gonna go sneak a smoke in the stairwell (which they were letting people do, no problem). I said to him "hey man, remember when we were ten and we'd go to games and you'd go to the bathroom and there'd be these creepy guys just hangin' out against the wall smokin' cigarettes? You don't want to be that creepy guy to some ten year old now, do ya?" He agreed. A few minutes later he changed his mind. "I swear, if you leave," I said, "the Kings are gonna score." He stayed. A few minutes later, he left. While he was gone puffin', Tomas Sandstrom scored. I was so mad. The Kings won. They won the series. It's all my friend's fault. There shouldn't even have been a Game Six! On his behalf, to everyone, I apologize for my friend's indercression and poor judgement. He has since given up smoking. Bizzarly, I'm still trying to quit.
Can't smoke at the ACC either, but I haven't been to a game since...
(trails off sadly without an ending)
Don't know what it is about Game Three that makes it less memorable then Game Two. Maybe it's because, where the Leafs are concerned, Game Three has generally not been a pleasant experience. The trend is reversing; the last 3 Game Threes they've won, but from 1989 to the present, in 22 playoff rounds, the Leafs are 6-16 in Game Three. That's a winning percentage of .272 (which includes 3 wins in a row). That spells Y-I-K-E-S-! It's interesting that Game Three doesn't seem as "pivotal" as it should be. After 16 losses in Game Three, the Leafs still prevailed in the series 7 times, losing 9. (Winning Game Three gets ya 4 and 2)
Of the victories that I can recall, only 2 stand out. In 2001, Cory Cross (ahem... birds chirping) gives the Leafs a 3-0 series lead over the Sens with his overtime goal (See Game One - The Catastrophe). 2 years later, Tomas Kaberle scores the last Leaf playoff overtime goal, possibly ever. It was a double overtime thriller against the Flyers to give the Leafs a 2-1 series lead (which they would eventually lose), but ignore that, the point is: 5 years and counting since a leaf scored a goal in overtime in the playoffs. (I know, how do you score a goal in overtime in the playoffs when you're not in the playoffs? Ya, well, how does anyone ever accomplish anything without Sir Gary Roberts is what I'd like to know!)
** Correction ** The last overtime goal scored by a Leaf player in the playoffs was Travis Green in Game Six of this same series. Took me over a year to realize this mistake. Don't know why I'd be blocking out my memory of Travis Green's heroics... Maybe it's 'cause he's one the few Leafs I've ever hated.
The list of Leaf dissapointments in Game Three is long and profane:
In 1990, St. Louis wins, 6-5 on Sergio Momesso's overtime heartbreaker. Blues take a 3-0 stranglehold on the series, eventually winning 4-1.
In 1994, a 5-2 loss to the appalling San Jose Sharks. The same year, a 4-0 pummeling by Vancouver in the Conference Finals.
In 2001, Rafalski scores to give the Devils its second of back-to-back oveertime wins. Devils lead the series, 2-1.
2002. A 6-1 loss to the Islanders. Fuck (told ya there'd be profanity). The same year, in the Conference Finals, future-former-Leaf Jeff O'Neil scores as Carolina wins the second of back-to-back overtime victories. Fuck, again.
The very worst, or most painful, and therfore most memorable Game Three belongs to 1996. Against the Blues, St. Louis takes a 2-1 series lead on "creepy" Glenn Anderson's OT goal. It was a moment that turned the series as much as the stomach. The Leafs, coached by Mike Foligno and some guy (Nick Beverly), were soon beaten 4 games to 2 by a Blues team, coached by "even creepier" Mike Keenan, and featuring Wayne "the Greatest Villain of All-Time" Gretzky. It was the climax of an epic tragedy. Everything that could go wrong, did. Losing the series so demoralized Leaf fans and Leaf players alike, that neither went to a playoff game for another 2 years.
Eventually the Leafs would get Pat Quinn, playoff games would be won, and overtime goals would be scored again. Sir Gary Roberts and Cujo would come and go. Tucker and McCabe would come and then wouldn't go. Kaberle would score in a Game Three in double overtime. And, best of all, the Leafs would beat the Senators 4 times in 5 years (wiping away a tear), though it seems like it's been a while since...
(trails off sadly without ending)
Not sure why, but Game Four seems to be the least memorable of all playoff games in a series. Seems counter intuitive. For me, unless it's already 3-0, Game Four IS the series. It's a whole lot better to be tied 2-2 then down 3-1. Even better is being up 3-1. It's only one game out of seven, but Game Four is the one that seems to get you half way there.
So you'd think that Game Four would be more dramatic, more memorable. Here's a list of the most significant Game Four's from the last 20 years:
In no paticular order. No, actually, in chronological order.
1994. Opening round against Chicago. Jeremy Roenick scores in OT to tie the series at 2-2. A very memorable goal, partly because I hated Roenick so much at the time, but mostly I remember it for Felix Potvin's effort in trying to prevent it. It was a sure goal, a wide open net, J.R. in the slot, with Felix backpeddling from one side of the net to the other, and he almost had it! Point is: he tried (I'm lookin' at you, Raycroft). He was a heck of a competitor and he had a real cool nickname. I miss the Cat. Leafs won both of the next 2 games, 1-0 each, and won the series in 6.
1999. Sergei Berezin scores the biggest goal of his dynamically-challenged career. In overtime, on the road in Pittsburg, Berezin's goal evened the series. Leafs grabbed the momentum, won the next two games, and advanced to the Final Four. Berezin, meanwhile, will forever be associated in my mind with these two words: "one", and "dimensional". Sorry Sergei.
2001. Leafs sweep the Sens in the opening round. For Leaf fans, a surprisingly small step forward. For Ottawa, it is The Catastrophe. The worst case scenario, realized. Maybe the darkest day in the Sens dark, dark, gloomy history. Which makes it a very bright and special day, worth remembering and celebrating, in what is also a fairly sad and gloomy Leafs' history.
Also 2001. Fresh off the sweep, Leafs are down 2 games to 1 thanks to back-to-back overtime wins by the Devils, when Tie Domi has the game of his life, and then does one of the stupidest things of his life (probably). He really had played a terrific game, and was a key contributor in the Leafs' 3-1 lead, when late in the game, with Scott Stevens in the penalty box, Domi, bless his little heart, for no apparent reason, cracks Niedemeyer with a passing elbow and knocks him out. Niedemeyer had to be carried off the ice on a stretcher, and meanwhile, anyone who saw it will remember it, Stevens went bezerk, bananas, and bonkers simultaneously in the penalty box. He looked like he was going to tear the whole ACC apart trying to get out of there, even though the door has a handle. It's not magnetically sealed. Anyways, just before it happened I was thinking what a great game Domi had played. He had a goal, he was hitting everywhere, the crowd was chanting his name, and then he went and ruined it. That's the saddest part. It already was a memorable Game Four for Domi. Then, one stupid pointless elbow later, it changed, and the series changed. Leafs still won the next game to take a 3-2 series lead, but you had a feeling Stevens and the Devils weren't just going to give up. They didn't. They won Game 6 and 7 and they won the series. They showed more guts and more heart and more character, and of course they did, 'cause none of the Devils was named Tie Domi.
2003. Mark Recchi for Philadelphia scores in triple overtime to tie the series at 2-2. A heartbreaker. Had it gone the other way, Leafs would've been up 3-1. Instead, the Flyers won on home ice, Games 5 and 7, and took the series. Leafs are out in the first round.
2004. Second round against the Flyers. A 3-1 victory at home to tie the series. The last playoff game the Leafs have won. 2004. The last playoff game the Leafs have won. 2004. The last victory the Leafs had in the playoffs was 2004. They haven't won a playoff game since 2004. Don't remember this game so well, sweet Lord, it seems like it's been so long since...
(trails off sadly without an ending)
Now we're getting somewhere. Seems like each game in the series gets more meaningful from here. Game Five is more memorable then Game Four. Game Six is more memorable then Game Five, and so on. (It's a bell-curve of memorability!) So, here's a list of memorable Game Five's, this time in reverse chronological order.
We'll skip over Philly beating us 7-2, in 2004, and jump back to 2002. Second round, Leafs and Sens. Series tied at 2-2 in Toronto. Late in the game, Alfredsson, with his own impression of "the Greatest Screw Job Ever in the History of Sports" (see Game Six), does a wicked Pearl Harbour on Darcy Tucker, blatant but unpenalized, and then scores immediately after. The remainder of the game is a disgrace, with very little hockey being played beneath the falling debris and endless booing. The reasons why this does not qualify as "the Greatest Screw Job Ever in the History of Sports" are: 1) it was only Game Five, not Game Six, 2) it wasn't in overtime, 3) Tucker's good but he's not Dougie, and 4) no player whose entire career was in a Senators uniform will ever be associated with the word "greatest".
The year 2000. In the first round against the Sens, with the series tied 2-2, former Leaf Steve Thomas becomes a Leaf again and scores in overtime. In retrospect, a milestone goal. Leafs would win the next game and the series and then go on to eliminate the Senators 3 more times.
In 1999, Game Five of the first round against Philadelphia, Yanic Perrault scores in overtime to give the Leafs a 3-2 series lead. They won the next game and the series and then marched through Pittsburg to the Final Four. It's funny to think that this huge goal for Yanic, plus Stumpy's the next year, led JFJ's brain to go "click" and swap a 2nd-rounder to bring Perrault back in a deadline deal bust. The long thread of irony weaves a tapestry showing a hunter shooting a duck, and the gun goes "quack".
1996. First round against St. Louis, down 3 games to 1. Mike "before-Sundin-was-Mr. Clutch-I-was-Mr. Clutch" Gartner, prolongs the inevitable series loss, with his second playoff overtime goal as a Leaf. A skill player without finesse, and a physical player without toughness, Gartner somehow always scored exactly 30 goals for 30 seasons in a row. He made a career out of getting high-sticked under his visor, and was often described by opponents as "a nice guy". His 2 playoff overtime goals equal Mats Sundin's total as a Leaf, and represent twice the total playoff overtime goals scored by Kaberle, Tucker, McCabe, Kubina, Wellwood, Stajan, Steen, Antrobot, Ponybot, or any other Leaf on the current roster, combined. Twice. Combined. 2.
1994. Conference Finals. In Vancouver. 14 seconds into double overtime Greg Adams beats Felix the Cat. Vancouver wins the series. Seemed like it was over before it began. In retrospect, that Vancouver team was one of the very best ever not to win a Cup. Maybe also the 1993 Leafs, but not the '94 Leafs. They barely beat San Jose. This game is also notable for being Wendel Clark's last game as captain of the Maple Leafs.
1993. Conference Finals vs. the Kings, series tied, 2-2. "Creepy" Glenn Anderson whacks a puck out of the air with 40 seconds left in the OT period to give the Leafs a 3-2 series lead. One win away from the Stanley Cup Finals, the closest the Leafs had been since '67, and the closest they've ever been since.
That same year, in the opening round, the Leafs played a pivotal Game Five in Detroit. The home team's had won the first four games but there still seemed to be a sense, even though the series was tied, that the Leafs were overmatched. A gutsy, gritty effort produced overtime though, and then Leapin' Mike Foligno did the Leap that took my breath away. All of a sudden, a Leaf Nation believed. For Foligno was one of us. He seemed to know how we felt, and he expressed it on the ice. And he had a really cool helmet. Because of Foligno's goal, the impossible suddenly became possible. We beat Detroit in 7, we beat the Blues in 7, and then, if not for "the Greatest Screw Job Ever in the History of Sports" ....
(stops abruptly, knowing what comes next, but not wanting to go on)
Okay, let's get on with it. In reverse chronological order:
2004. Second Round. Jeremy Roenick scores his second career playoff OT goal against the Leafs, immediatly after a monster Tucker hit on Kappanen. This time it's a series-clincher, as the Flyers take the series 4-2, advancing to the Final Four. In 2008 the Flyers head back to the Conference Finals, meanwhile, the Leafs have not played a playoff game since.
The same year in the previous round, Mike Fisher scores for Ottawa in double overtime to extend the series to 7. As far as I know, this is the only game the Senators ever won with "their backs up against the wall".
2002. Martin Gelinas kills another Final Four appearance with his series-clinching overtime goal, spoiling Sundin's last minute heroics that tied the game.
That same year, second round against the Senators. One of the best games ever. "Guts and Glory" read the Sun front page the next day, and for once it was accurate. Tie Domi, in a rare example of using his head, smashes it with unrestrained abandon into the boards, busting up his face like a pro wrestler, and drawing a 5-minute penalty, which swung the game, and ultimately, the series. Awesome job, Tie.
1999. second round against Pittsburg. The man who scores the series-clinching goal in overtime to put the Leafs into the Final Four is... Gary Valk? By sheer coincidence, the least memorable player to ever score a playoff goal in overtime for the Leafs is... Gary Valk! (sorry Cory Cross, second prize)
1995 vs. Chicago. The bronze medalist in our "least memorable Leaf to score a playoff overtime goal sweepstakes", Randy Wood, ties the series at 3-3. Chicago still wins in 7, and the Leafs are left to answer questions like, why is Randy Wood the go-to guy with the series on the line?
1994. Sharks leading 3 games to 2. Igor Larionov hits a crossbar and Bob Cole says "scores!' For about 2 seconds in my mind the game stopped. The series was over. And then the series continued and they kept playing, and soon after Mike "Mr. Clutch" Gartner stumbles under a high stick, over Arturs Irbe, and bounces a puck into the net to set up Game Seven.
(start playing "The Imperial March" now)
GAME SIX: Special Feature "The Greatest Screw Job Ever in the History of Sports"
1993, the Final Four. In L.A.. Leafs leading the series, 3 games to 2. The best game God ever played. His hat-trick was a thing of beauty, of magnificence. Breathtaking, heart-pounding, mind-altering, magnificence. Especially the third goal. Divine. If not for Kerry Fraser and Wayne "the Greatest Villain of All Time", and their diabolical scheme, "the Greatest Screw Job Ever in the History of Sports", y'know Wendel probably would've scored a fourth. (Also implicated in this conspiracy are: Gary Bettman, excecutives at Fox and CBC, Pepsi, Bruce McNall, Tony Robbins, and Jari Kurri. Considered suspicious by association are: Janet Gretzky, Rick Tocchet, and Patrick Roy.)
(stops typing and shakes his fist defiantly)
We all know what happened. Everyone saw. Early in overtime, Leafs were killing a penalty (thanks to "creepy" Glenn, also implicated!). As Dougie is just about to clear the puck out of the zone, down the ice, and kill off the penalty, he falls to the ice for no reason. Kerry Fraser blows his whistle for no reason. Blood gushes from Gilmour's chin, for no reason. Everyone looks at number 99, and he knows... the moment has come.
No arms are raised. No penalty box doors are opened. No discussions with the linesman over who saw what. "5-and-a-game" and "what about Dave Andreychuk" are meaningless whispers. The Great One contemplates his destiny... and then - !
With the blood of his opponent still wet on his stick, Gretzky ends the game, laughing wildly at the sheer treachery of it all. Dougie's blood was on that puck. Dougie's blood was in the back of the net. And the Great One laughed like a looney mad scientist about to blow up the earth. He was now "the Greatest Villain of All Time". It was "the Greatest Screw Job Ever in the Histiory of Sports".
(now that's an ending)
Game Seven, of course, is the most memorable of all, and as it should be. Since 1989 the Leafs have been involved in 10 Game Sevens, winning 6. Here's a look back...
2004. Leafs beat Ottawa in the opening round, winning the final game 4-1 at home. It is the last playoff round the Leafs have won. On the plus side, their record against the Sens in the playoffs remains a perfect 4-0.
2003. Opening round loss to the Flyers. The seventh game is a 6-1 blowout in Philadelphia. I'd always wondered how Blues' fans felt after Game Seven in '93. Now I knew. Sorry kids, Christmas is cancelled.
2002. Second round. Sens again. Mogilny's magic leads the way as the Leafs play a perfect and flawless game seven at home, winning 3-0. The same year in the first round, Leafs have to go the distance against the NYIslanders in a series where the home team won every game. 2002 was a good year, and the team came close, but eventually ran out of gas against Paul Maurice and the Carolina Hurricanes. From this point on, the words "dissapointment" and "failure" become linked to Maurice's name. As in: "hiring Maurice was a huge dissapointment and a colossal failure".
2001. New Jersey ends Toronto's season in the second round, 5-1, after a hard fought series. I'm starting to notice a pattern: the home team wins Game Seven.
1995. The home team wins Game Seven again. Chicago beats the Leafs, 5-2. It was a sorry end to a lockout-shortened season, though these would be just the first few sorry steps leading up a mountain of shame before us ('96, '97, '98).
1994. The Leafs finally finish off San Jose, winning 4-2 at home. Perhaps the least satisfying Game Seven victory ever. Losing to the Sharks would have been unforgiveable, so winning had all the excitement of seeing a garage door close the way it's supposed to, without getting stuck.
1993. The visiting team steals a game. The heartbreaking epilogue to "the Greatest Screw Job Ever in the History of Sports". Leafs lose on home ice to the Kings, 5-4, the "Greatest Villain of All Time" with a dastardly hat-trick, knocking the game winner in off of Dave Ellett's ankle. The hopes and dreams of a Leaf Nation, tied to the train tracks with sinister delight by "the Great One", only to have them crushed by a piano. Hilarious.
The same year, in the previous round. One of the most satisfying Game Sevens ever. Leafs beat the Blues, in a home ice romp, 6-0. Led by God, who nearly decapitated Cujo with a slap shot, the Leafs celebrated early and often. A sincerley joyful hockey game, of which the most enduring image will always be Foligno and Gilmour, arms-wide, meeting near the boards, in celebration of Dougie's breakaway goal.
1993, 1st round vs. Red Wings. In Detroit. Here's what I remember: I was 17, she was 16. It was our two month anniversary. We were gonna do it for the first time. I bought flowers, chocolate, and made a nice dinner. We watched the Leaf game. I never really imagined they would win this series, but I cheered for them all the same. After Wendel and Dougie tied it in the third, I decided I couldn't take the tension, and didn't want the heartbreak of an overtime loss to spoil our "special moment". We turned off the TV and the lights, and put on Q107 to get us in the mood. We started getting hot and heavy, in that clumsy, awkward teenage way, which isn't really hot at all, when suddenly the song on the radio, mid-way through, was interupted by the Q107 announcer. It was a flurry of hollering and mad excitement, frantic ecstacy penetrating our most sacred, divine, and tender moment. "What was that?" she said. "I think the Leafs won in overtime", I replied. "I thought I heard him say Borschevsky". "No", she said, looking up at me, and then down below, "what was that?". "Oh", I said, "I think I got a little too excited. Sorry."
And that is why I will always remember Game Seven against Detroit, 1993, and why my Leaf jersey has number 16, Borschevsky, on the back.
(finishes triumphantly, satisfied the ending had a climax)