Monday, April 27, 2009


Hey everybody! It's a milestone! This is my 100th post! I think that's kind of amazing since I only started this blog a little less then a year ago. So, for the occasion, I've decided to do a nostalgic retrospective celebrating my favorite posts. If you've enjoyed any of my stuff so far, please take the time to review what I think are the best examples of my work from my first 100 posts.

Top Ten Leafs Games, 2008-9, Sensational Season-Ending Super-Post Spectacular!
-April 9, 2009

This post got a really good reaction, so I ended up double-posting it over at PPP. Totally stole DownGoesBrown's thunder, but honestly, if he had posted his first, who would've read mine? I admit I jumped the gun by publishing it with one game left in the season, but truthfully, even if Boyd had scored a 4th and a 5th goal, I still doubt that last game would have made my top 10.

Live From Leaf Nation, It's Saturday Night!
-December 13, 2008

This one was also double-posted at PPP, but this time I published it there first. It was a cold, lonely Saturday night in December, and the Leafs were not doing the one thing they were supposed to be doing - entertaining me. So, I thought I'd entertain myself by imagining what they might be doing with themselves on a rare, free Saturday night.

It's Not Funny If It Isn't Raycroft
-November 17, 2008
This is just a short sight-gag really, but it seemed to strike a chord with Leaf fans. At first I wasn't going to publish it, 'cause it seemed mean-spirited and I didn't want to get too down on the Vesa, but after giving up 2 goals in the 1st period on 10 shots and spotting the Bruins an early 2-0 lead, I lost my patience and fired this one off out of spite.

Hockey At The Gardens
-November 7, 2008
Here's one of my posts that I'm most proud of. Ever since the Leafs moved out of the Gardens I've dreamed of them returning someday to play a series of "black-tie affair" Original Six games there. I was really pleased with how well this post was received, but the best part, was that just 2 weeks later, CBC aired a special video of Wendel Clark revisiting Maple Leaf Gardens as part of the Leafs' tribute that night to their great Captain.

Well, It's Not Gonna Be That Guy
-August 20, 2008
In the summer I began writing a series of posts entitled "The Blood Of My Chief" about the great line of Leaf captains. I was hoping to time the conclusion of this series with Sundin's decision on his return, but that became a colossal miscalculation on my part as we waited in vane throughout the summer. When it became clear that the Leafs were going to have to start the season without him, I realized he was no longer the Captain, even if he decided to return. He had retired, at least, from that responsibility. The obvious question then became, who would the Leafs name as their 17th Captain? As usual, DGB had the answer.

Hockey Or Death!
-August 1, 2008

Ever since I published this post, this has been one of the most popular on my site according to Google Analytics, probably from people finding it through Google Images because of the picture of Robert Smith in a Leafs jersey. This post is the kind of stuff I wish I could do more more often, but I've come to realize that this piece was uniquely inspired. It basically wrote itself and perfectly captured and summarized my feelings about Sundin, in the end concluding that "Black is the colour of our love".

Maple Leafs Nation: Meet The D-Men
-July 3, 2008
I still like this one a lot. I think it's a good example of the kind of stuff that I do well. Interesting to note that 6 of these 9 defenceman are still with the Leafs. I wonder how many will be left by the time the season opener rolls around in October?

How Creepy Glenn Sabotaged Our Future
-June 18, 2008

If you're a Leafs fan that's new to this site, or if you've just stumbled through accidentally, this is the one and only post that I really think you should read. The reason why, simply put, is because every word is the absolute honest truth. This is the stark reality that the Hockey Hall Of Fame doesn't want you to know about, but it had to be told. History books will tell you a different story, but we don't forget.

Ron Wilson And Me
-June 11, 2008
Soon after Ron Wilson was hired to be the coach of the Maple Leafs, he held a Q&A session with the media in Toronto that was covered by Paul Hunter in the Star. There was a ton of great quotes in there so I decided to make up my own questions to Wilson's responses and this is the result. This was one of my earliest posts, and it was a lot of fun to do.

Is There A "Todd Gill" That Isn't Todd Gill?
-May 24, 2008

Just before Wilson was hired I decided to speculate on what kind of a coach would be good for the Maple Leafs this season. The best thing about this post, just my second ever, was that I didn't even know Todd Gill was a coach when I'd written most of it. After I was about 2/3 of the way through it, I thought I ought to do some research (i.e. Google "Todd Gill", and then click Wikipedia), and was flabbergasted to discover that he actually was coaching and was in fact doing it very well. Gill was named Canadian Junior Hockey League Coach of the Year for the 2006-2007 season and is still coaching the Brockville Braves today. Recently, Gill's underdog Braves defeated division rival Smith Falls in the opening round of Junior A playoffs, and then pushed their semi-final series with the Pembroke Lumber Kings to 7-games before finally ending their season. One of my favorite Leafs of all-time, I could just as easily have written 100 posts about Todd Gill exclusively, and to be honest, a part of me thinks maybe I should have.

Thanks again and cheers to everyone, especially for the comments which I really appreciate. For those of you who've been here for the "entire journey", I hope you've found this blog to be fun and meaningful, like a playoff run to the Cup Final, and not a series of increasingly joyless and deflating moments, like a Maple Leafs' regualr season.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Even More Maple Leafs In The Playoffs!

Some of the Maple Leafs are still playing playoff hockey. 11 players who dressed for the big club this season will be lacing up their skates for the Marlies tonight in their pivotal Game Five match-up against the Manitoba Moose. Any Leaf fans attending the game will be automatically familiar with about half the Marlies playoff line-up, which features a combined total experience of 205 NHL games with the Leafs this year.

Jonas Frogren
The Viking returns from a knee-injury suffered March 7th against Edmonton. I like Frogren a lot, but the NHL has banged him up a bit in his first season, and getting a chance to help the Marlies in the playoffs may be an opportunity for him to show Burke what kind of physical resilience he has.

41 games with the Leafs. 1G 6A 7P, 28PiM.
Played in his first game with the Marlies Tuesday night without impacting on the scoresheet.

Justin Pogge
The upcoming games in this series are a big test for Pogge. If the Marlies can upset the Moose and Pogge can get them into the next round it will be hugely beneficial to his confidence. On the other hand, should they lose 2 out of their next 3 games and have their season end, Pogge will be back to square one, with little or no progression to show for the year.

7 games with the Leafs. 1-4-1, 4.36GAA, .844 SV%.
53 games with the Marlies. 26-21-5, 2.70GAA,, .895SV%.
After 4 playoff games, Pogge is 2 wins, 2 losses, 2.70GAA and .911 SV%.

Ryan Hollweg
Hollweg made a name for himself early on this season by hitting opponents from behind and then getting beat up. His AHL stats are pretty much the same as his NHL stats.

25 games with the Leafs. oG 2A 2P, 38PiM.
28 games with the Marlies. 2G 1A 3P, 34PiM.
No points in 4 playoff games and 6 penalty minutes.

Ben Ondrus
To be honest, I don't think I could really tell the difference between Ondrus, Sifers, or Oreskovic if they weren't wearing uniforms with numbers and their names on the backs. I think Sifers is the one I like but  maybe it's Oreskovic. They all have decent numbers at the AHL level but none of them managed to make a significant impact with the Leafs. Ondrus distinguished himself slightly from the other 2 by dropping the gloves more often, while Oreskovic can play a solid, stay-at-home physical game.

11 games with the Leafs. 0G 0A 0P, 38PiM. 
57 games with the Marlies. 10G 7A 17P, 83PiM.
No points in 4 playoff games. 2 penalty minutes.

Jamie Sifers
23 games with the Leafs. 0G 2A 2P, 18PiM.
43 games with the Marlies. 4G 16A 20P, 47PiM.
Appeared in 2 playoff games so far, with no points and 2 penalty minutes.

Phil Oreskovic
10 games with the Leafs. 1G 1A 2P, 21PiM.
65 games with the Marlies. 1G 10A 11P, 103PiM.
No points in the playoffs after 4 games and 12 penalty minutes.

Andre Deveaux
I liked Deveaux at first but NHL competition seemed to wear him down after 20 games. I remember he gave a good effort though as the Leafs were desperate for some toughness before the arrival of May. His numbers for the Marlies are pretty good for a tough guy, but he has to be careful not to hurt his own team at important times. Tuesday night in Game Four, Deveaux was singled out by the coach for undisciplined penalties.

21 games with the Leafs. 0G 1A 1P, 75PiM.
38 games with the Marlies. 14G 11A 25P, 114PiM.
3 assists in 4 playoff games and 12 penalty minutes.

Jeremy Williams
Williams is a natural goal-scorer but for some reason he's been unable to convince Toronto management that he belongs on the big club. Injury trouble has slowed him down a bit this season, and so far he's yet to hit the back of the net in the playoffs. Heading into tonight's important match, Williams' confidence might also be hurt by his own "dumb mistakes" in Game Four.

11 games with the Leafs. 5G 2A 7P, 2PiM.
46 games with the Marlies. 27G 13A 40P, 29PiM.
1 assist and 4 penalty minutes after 4 playoff games.

Tim Stapleton
Stapleton looks like a nice kid. Scored a beauty shoot-out goal when he was up for his brief stay with the Leafs. He can certainly score in the AHL, but so far in the playoffs is having a quiet series with just one goal and no assists.

4 games with the Leafs. 1G 0A 1P, 0PiM.
70 games with the Marlies. 28G 51A 79P, 26PiM.
1 goal no assists and 2 penalty minutes in 4 playoff games.

Jiri Tlusty
Tlusty was up with the Leafs for the first 14 games of the season and did absolutely nothing for 11 games, then had his first 3 assists all at once in a 6-4 victory over the Carolina Hurricanes, assisting on all 3 goals for Jason Blake's hat-trick against his former coach. Tlusty earned another assist in the very next game and then played one more game for the Leafs and that was it. He has since spent the rest of the season developing with the Marlies, and has become one of their key contributors, averaging a point per game.

14 games with the Leafs. 0G 4A 4P, 0PiM.
66 games with the Marlies. 25G 41A 66P, 26PiM.
In 4 playoff games, 1 goal, 2 assists for 3 points, and zero penalty minutes.

Anton Stralman
Stralman was with the Leafs for nearly half the season, and played pretty well. Nothing spectacular, but he didn't stand out as particularly weak or vulnerable either. His stats aren't bad considering he should still be developing and getting better, and of all the defenceman on the Marlies, Stralman could have the inside track on a permanent job next season with the Maple Leafs.

38 games with the Leafs. 1G 12A 13P, 20PiM.
36 games with the Marlies. 7G 9A 16P, 24PiM.
After 4 playoff games, 2 assists and zero penalty minutes.

So there may be only a couple games left for the Marlies and tonight might be the last home game of the year. If you're in Toronto, I urge you to see what you can do to get down to the Ricoh and cheer on our beloved Blue and White. Wear your Leaf jersey. After all, 11 of these guys have worn Leaf jerseys this season too.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Maple Leafs In The Playoffs!

Well, not exactly.

I'm having a tough time this year getting behind any one team in the playoffs. I find this year's teams to be lacking a little in compelling characters and story lines, but maybe that'll change as we get into it a bit more. Always fascinating to me however is the possibility that a former Maple Leaf may win the Cup, so rather then follow one team or one series, instead I'm keeping an eye on these ex-Leafs in the post-season. Some I cheer for, some I don't, but all of them are interesting to one degree or another and it'll be exciting to see how close any of them get to having their hands on the Cup.
Obviously we're all cheering against the Habs. Mathieu Schneider is the only ex-Maple Leaf who creeps me out as much as Glenn Anderson. Maybe it's his rat-face, or his rat-like tendencies on the ice, or the fact that in his 3 seasons as a Leaf, they missed the playoffs twice and the one year they did make it, they lost in the first round to St. Louis and Schneider had twice as many penalty minutes(8) as points(4). I'll give him this - he's been in the league for a long, long time. Since 1989-90 he's played for 8 different teams and is back for his second go round with Montreal. He makes me want to puke. I hope they get demolished. In the opener against Boston, Schneider had zero points and was a minus 2.
I kinda liked Freddie Modin when he was here. He was good, but not great, like a Steen or a Stajan, and less annoying then a Stempniak. His numbers dramatically improved when he left Toronto and joined Tampa in 1999, eventually winning a Cup with the Lightning in 2004. Since going to Columbus in 2006, Modin has been in decline and missed quite a few games the last 2 years. It'll be interesting to see what he's got left in the tank and if he can use his experience to help Columbus upset the Wings. Not exactly known as a "playoff performer", Modin did have 19 playoff points in 23 games the year he won his Cup.
I like Mike Peca 'cause I like Mike Peca Hockey. I like the way he plays the game - fast, tenacious, feisty, and a killer instinct for the big goal. He's kinda somewhere in between Darcy Tucker and Dominic Moore, two former Leafs not in the playoffs. It's a shame that his only season as a Leaf was cut so short due to injury, and I never understood why he wasn't re-signed the next season. Now in his second year with the Blue Jackets, this will be Peca's 10th trip to the playoffs in 13 seasons.
Carlo Colaiacovo. What can you say about Mr. Give-Me-Some-Powerplay-Time-'Cause-My-Bones-Don't-Explode-As-Much-Anymore? I'm so happy to see Carlo having some real success, even if it's not with the Leafs. 19 assists on the powerplay in St. Louis for Carlo, yet remarkably Colaiacovo went the season without a powerplay goal. I'm betting he gets one in this series, and it's mostly because of this battered survivor that I'm temporarily putting aside my usual despise for St. Louis and hoping they knock out those lousy Canucks.
Alex Steen doesn't really possess Scott Stevens' or Mark Messier's Eye of the Tiger look. It's more like the Dopey Gaze of the Bank Teller. After a rough start in Toronto this year, Steen found his game in St. Louis. I'm afraid the Blues may be overmatched in the first round against Vancouver - after 2 games the Canucks have won both games, and St. Louis has scored just 1 goal on Luongo. Steen assisted on that goal, scored by another former Leaf prospect and 1st round pick, Brad Boyes.
Here's Kyle Wellwood eating his glove while dreaming about a huge cake the size of a swimming pool. So far in the playoffs he's barley made himself visible with a token shot on goal in each game and no points. Not a big surprise if he doesn't play a significant part in any Vancouver success, but it would be great to see him come through with a huge clutch goal when the Canucks need it most.
I tuned into tonight's Vancouver-St.Louis game specifically because it was suggested that Mats Sundin was so ineffective in Game 1 as to warrant being a possible healthy scratch. Well, in Game 2, it was Sundin with the opening goal, the eventual game-winner, as Luongo picked up the shutout. With a 2-0 series lead, I don't think Vancouver fans have anything to complain about, and I'm sure that Sundin is prepared for a long playoff run and has the experience to know how to contribute when it counts. Sundin now has 8 career game-winning goals in the playoffs, tied for 53rd all-time, and may climb up that list if Vancouver can win more then one round this spring.
Nik Antropov seems to be fitting in nicely with the Rangers and I'm happy for him. After scoring 7 goals for New York in the regular season since the trade deadline, Antro opened the playoffs by scoring a goal and adding an assist on the game-winner in Game 1 against the Capitals. As much as I like Ovechkin, which is less then I dislike Avery, I'm still cheering for Antropov and hope he hits the back of the net a few more times before the Rangers eventual exit from the first round.
Ugh. Paul Maurice has a way of turning playoff expectations into nightmares. Sometimes it works out for him, sometimes it doesn't. After surprising the Toronto media by ever finding work in the NHL again, Maurice had the Hurricanes rolling into the post-season as the hottest team in the NHL, going 13-3-2 down the stretch since March 1st. While Carolina lost the series-opener, they've now stolen home-ice advantage from New Jersey by winning Game 2 in overtime, on a goal by Tim Gleason. As the series heads south, Einstein's team could be poised to unleash disaster and disappointment on the Devils.
Lovingly referred to as the U.S.S. Hal Gill, this behemoth on the blue-line has not been forgotten here. If Pittsburgh is going to go deep in the playoffs again, I believe they're going to need this towering defenceman to eat up a lot of minutes for them and maybe a few opposing forwards as well. It would be interesting if Pittsburgh were to meet Boston in a later round so that we could see Gill and Chara match up head-to-head. Not that these two are likely to encounter each other directly in the game, but it would be awesome to see them go toe-to-toe at centre ice. I know that Chara would probably destroy Hal Gill, but he's the only player that I think even compares to Zdeno's size and strength. Really what I want to see is Chara in a steel-cage ladder match, but it doesn't have to be with Hal Gill, it could be with anybody.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

BoOBbB 6: The End

Hey, what happened to the Battle of Ontario Blow-by-Blow #5? Ya, well, no one wants to hear about my nightmare on the TTC streetcar, or read excuses about screaming infants and broken laptops. Let's just say it was a terrible game, the Leafs lost 2-1, and somehow I had foreknowledge that this would occur and because the game was on Leafs TV, I decided to boycott it. Apparently the highlight of the night was Cujo allowing the 2,500th goal of his illustrious career. For the full BoOBbB Experience, minus game 5, go here.

So here we are, game 82, neither of these teams headed for the playoffs. The Senators have already clinched 11th place in the East while Toronto will finish 12th. There may yet be some drama in this final game however- here's some things to watch for: Presumably Gerber will get the start and will face his former team. That alone increases the potential that this will be a good game. Meanwhile, Blake is now leading the team in goals, tied for the lead in assists with Stajan, and leading the team in points as well. However, Ponikarovsky is right behind him by just 2 goals, 1 assist, and 3 points. Will Blake wear the triple-crown for offence, or can Poni catch him at the finish line? Finally, both Blake and Stajan are 2 assists away from 40-assist seasons, a remarkable achievement if either can hit that number. Hope I haven't jinxed it. Really what I'm hoping for is a high-scoring game with a few good hits.

Enough with the mumbo-jumbo, let's drop the puck...!

First Period

Alfredsson not in the line-up for Ottawa.

20:00 Blake, Hanson, Stapleton, Schenn, and White are the starting 5 for Toronto.

18:30 Stajan with the puck in the slot, falls over backwards without being hit.

17:53 Stempniak with a nice rush between the defence, draws a hooking penalty. Kelly goes to the box, Leafs go to the powerplay.

17:45 Kubina hits the post.

17:00 Heatley shorthanded break, stopped by Gerber.

16:45 Leafs hit another post on a blind shot through a crowd.

15:53 Penalty expires. Shots are 4-1 for the Leafs.

15:15 GOAL!!! It's Devereaux! Stempniak starts the play cutting through the zone, then Devereaux jumps on the puck and fires a wrist shot along the ice that eludes Elliott. 1-0, Leafs.

12:20 Good save Gerber, as Ottawa presses for the first time.

11:30 Heatley stoped by Gerber.

10:50 Nice pass from Mitchell to May sending him in close but he can't get the shot away.

10:20 Stajan rips one over the net. His line, with Stampniak and Devereaux, have been the best Leaf forwards early on.

9:00 Puck bounces off of Hagman in front and Elliott has to make a tricky save.

7:10 Shannon shot stopped by Gerber, Heatley and Schenn battle in front.

6:20 A weak shot by Schubert, who then decides after the whistle to knock Finger's helmet off.

5:58 Donovan clothelines Hanson for a penalty. They call it "holding".

3:58 Penalty ends as White has a shot on goal from the point, the best chance of the powerplay. Bouncing pucks and a lot of hesitation.

3:20 Heatley trips Mitchell in the nuetral zone. Leafs go back to the powerplay.

2:50 Fisher with a short-handed chance. Gerber sharp so far.

2:40 Blake misses the net from in close.

2:30 Volchenkov takes a slap shot off the arm and lies on the ice for a while.

:20 May has a good chance then gets popped into the boards by Lee.

:11 May and Lee shove and throw punches at one another, but the linesman won't get out of the way. Lee gets 2 for roughing, May gets 4, but meanwhile the reason the whistle went is because Campoli shot the puck over the glass so he gets a penalty for delay of game and all the penalties wipe themselves out.

Period ends, Leafs leading 1-0. Volchenkov is gone for the game. Shots were 16-12 for Ottawa.

Second Period

20:00 Stempniak, Stajan, Devereaux, Schenn, and White on the ice to start the 2nd.

19:00 All Senators for the first minute but no real tough saves for Gerber.

18:20 Nice pad save by Gerber off Foligno.

17:50 Poni and Hagman both would've had good chances if they could control the puck.

16:30 Poni in the slot again can't handle the puck on a pass from White.

15:10 GOAL!!! Devereaux again, with a beautiful one-timer from the slot on a nice feed from Stempniak out of the corner. Great goal. Good for Boyd. Stempniak's tryin' hard, too. That's his second assist. Stajan picks up his first of the night, number 39 on the season.

14:10 Schenn throws some weight around. The building nearly crumbles.

12:50 Ruutu goes around the net, sets up Kuba whose shot is blocked in front.

12:40 May and Heatley share a laugh.

12:23 Kubina trips up Spezza who crashes into the boards pretty good. Ottawa powerplay.

11:45 Kuba in the slot, nice save Gerber. Good rebound control and recovery.

11:10 Leafs with a short-handed chance, just miss.

10:46 Goal. Oh man. Gerber stops the puck behind the net and then fans on it, leaving it there for Spezza who tucks it in for the goal. Brutal. That's a really awful goal. Spezza, unassisted, on the powerplay.

8:18 Goal. Oh no. Gerber gives the puck away again! White misses an easy pass somehow and Kelly steals it and scores. Game tied, 2-2.

7:00 Leafs starting to pick up the physical play a bit. Mayers, May, and Finger all throw hits in the next minute.

6:00 Kubina knocks Heatley down to prevent a scoring chance.

5:00 Pace has picked up.

4:30 Mayers alone in close, shoots over the net.

4:23 May going after Lee. Fisher gets between them. Big scrum. May gets a misconduct penalty? Leafs get an extra penalty somewhere 'cause the Sens are going on the powerplay. 2 for roughing, 2 for slahing, and a 10-minute misconduct for May. Fisher also gets a roughing penalty.

3:25 A shot by Kuba hits Gerebr.

2:35 Hagman blocks a point shot and might be hurt.

1:50 Hanson has a shot on goal, and then Blake just misses on the rebound.

1:10 Stempniak with some nice moves, outside-inside on Schubert, but the shot goes wide.

Period ends, 2-2. Only 20 minutes left on the season.

Third Period

20:00 Poni, Grabbo, Hagman up front, Kubina and Harrison on the blue-line to begin the final period.

18:15 Great save Gerber on Neil, who crashes into the net.

17:50 "Go Leafs Go!" chant, first of the game.

16:23 GOAL!!! Hagman! Grabbo's shot hits Elliott in the shoulder and bounces high up into the air. Grabbo then swoops in, collects the rebound, and dishes to Hagman who one-times it into the net. 3-2, Leafs. Poni gets a phantom assist.

14:25 "Go Leafs Go!" chant again. Not much else going on. Sens try to press but it's all from the outside. Gerber hasn't had to make too many tough saves. Leafs are doing a good job of blocking shots, even if they aren't hitting much.

12:20 Grabbo's speed nearly creates a 2-on-1 but Poni can't handle the pass.

11:44 Heatley trips up Kubina. Leafs go to their 4th powerplay.

10:40 Not much happening on the PP. Devereaux out there looking for the hat-trick but I don't think he touched the puck.

9:30 Nice work by Schenn to stop a break and keep the play in the Sens zone.

8:50 Poni has a big collision with Brendan Bell.

7:20 Blake pass to Stempniak, shot on goal, big rebound, Blake with another shot, stopped by Elliott.

6:35 May and Neil line up. Maybe next year.

5:20 Surprisingly hard shot by Hagman from the boards.

4:40 Leafs 3-on-2, Blake can't finish.

4:00 Gerber comes out to play the puck behind the net and the crowd noticeably buzzes. It sounds like they're saying "GRBRZRKR!", but they could be saying "Get back in your net!".

3:40 Stempniak with a good chance in the slot, tough save Elliott.

3:12 Neil hits Mayers hard and draws a penalty. This is cheese. Neil specifically goes after Mayers with a late hit and then Mayers gets tagged for a little hey-come-back-hook. They call it "slashing". Sens powerplay.

2:49 GOAL!!! Unbelievable! Boyd Devereaux with a short-handed, breakaway goal for the hat-trick on a beautiful backhander! Mats who? MATS WHO?!? Welcome home Boyd! The fans at the ACC shower the ice with hats in appreciation of Devereaux's gutsy effort. Stajan gets the assist, his 40th of the season. He did it. Wow. Nicely done, Stajan. What a season.

2:05 Sens call a time-out. The fans start booing.

2:00 Sens pull their goalie. Why?

1:35 Spezza around the net, Gerber out of position nearly gives up on the play, and Heatley misses a tap-in from the side of the crease, high and wide.

:44 GOAL!!! Empty-netter. Hagman with his second, nails it from the blue line.

:40 May and Neil look like they might go, but no.

:10 Neil fans on a good chance in front.

:00 Time runs out. Leafs win, 5-2.

There's a scoring summary here. Toronto takes the season series with 4 wins, 1 loss, and one overtime loss. Ottawa looked mostly terrible tonight and wouldn't have been in this game if it weren't for Gerber's stick-handling. Not a lot of passion from either side, but a workman-like effort from the Leafs got the job done, allowing them to raise their sticks at the end and salute the ACC crowd before they skated off the ice for the last time this season.

The Third Star, Lee Stempniak

The Second Star, Niklas Hagman

The First Star, Boyd Devereaux
Nice job, Boyd. Thanks for the season, Leafs.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Top Ten Leafs Games, 2008-9, Sensational Season-Ending Super-Post Spectacular!

With just one game left on the schedule for our beloved Blue and White, this season is very nearly in the history books, and seriously, it couldn't come too soon. But despite an awful record and missing the playoffs for a fourth straight year, there were some occasional highlights and a few moments of joy. So, in the same spirit as The Passion Returns, we'll take a look back at 2008-9, where Spirit Was All There Was, and celebrate the Top Ten Leafs Games of the season.

January 15/09 vs. Colorado Avalanche, Leafs win 7-4.

The Leafs were a pretty depressing hockey team in mid-January, but on this night in Denver Leaf fans enjoyed some much needed comedy relief. In goal for the Avalanche was the miserable Raycrap, the most despised Leafs' starting netminder ever. The game wasn't especially exciting, but the goaltending was vintage Raycroft. 7 mostly soft goals on 30 shots, the Leafs broke open a 1-1 first period tie with 3 in the 2nd and 3 in the 3rd.

Blake and Moore led the way with 3 points each, as 7 Leaf players had multiple-point nights. But the real story was the craptacular goaltending in the Avalanche net. The 6th and 7th goals, which killed any hope of a Colorado comeback, were quite hysterical. Just absolutely classic garbage soft goals, so familiar from when Raycrap was between the pipes in Toronto. Also familiar to Leaf fans was his signature style of body language after the 6th and 7th goals: an expression of utter defeat and increasing resignation so steep he might as well have jumped off a cliff. What a chump. Leaf fans can't be thankful enough to be liberated from that awful, humiliating goalie.


December 16/08 vs. New Jersey Devils, Leafs win 3-2 in a shoot-out.

The Leafs extend a mid-December winning streak to 3 games by defeating the Devils for the second time this year in a shoot-out. The hero in this one was Jason Blake, whose completely unexpected spin-around move surprised Clemmensen and stole the show.

This beautiful, eye-popping move seemed to highlight the fact that Jason Blake had turned a personal corner and rediscovered his game. Mostly it was a remarkable moment because it came near the beginning of his resurgence when many, like me, were still doubting him, only to blown away by the brilliance of Blake's magic move. I think a lot of Blake-haters became Blake-supporters after this night, while his play continued to steadily improve, right up until Antropov and some other guy got traded.


October 29/08 vs. New Jersey Devils, Leafs win 6-5 in a shoot-out.

Very early on in the season the Leafs played another very exciting and memorable game against the Devils in New Jersey. Instead of the dull, low-scoring, snooze-fest these two teams normally provide when they meet each other, fans were treated to some wide-open, end-to-end action, as both teams combined for 10 goals in regulation. The Leafs battled back from a 2-0 1st period deficit to take the lead, 3-2 in the 2nd, only to have to battle back again from 4-3 in the 3rd for a 5-4 lead. Leaf nemesis Zach Parise tied the game at 5, and the teams remained deadlocked until the shoot-out. Kulemin and Parise go first in the shoot-out and both miss. Then it's Steen (who? Wait, why?) for the Leafs who also misses, and Elias who scores. Tomas Kaberle is the Leafs' 3rd shooter and he needs to score on Brodeur to keep the game from ending right there.
Kaberle comes through in the clutch with a superstar goal, and then Toskala stones Gionta to force extra shooters. Hagman is up next for Toronto and scores one of the most memorable goals this season, backhanding the puck past Brodeur while showering him in snow. Lanngennbrunnnner misses the final shot for the Devils and the Leafs skate out of New Jersey with a 6-5 victory and also a few laughs at Marty's expense.


January 15/09 vs. Carolina Hurricanes, Leafs win 6-4.

Paul Maurice's first game against his former team was an eventful affair. Ian White opened the scoring on the powerplay at 12:43 of the first period. The Leafs then exploded for 3 more goals in the second to take a 4-0 lead. However, by the 8;40 mark of the 3rd, the Hurricanes had stormed back to tie the game. A powerplay late in the game gave the Leafs the opportunity to reclaim the lead - Kaberle scoring the goal that would become the game-winner at 14:35.

The real hero of the game though, was Jason Blake, who added an empty netter in the final minute to complete the hat-trick to go along with 2 assists for a 5-point night. This was, by far, Blake's best performance as a Leaf; a gutsy, inspired effort that felt like a direct statement to his old coach, Maurice, who thankfully, had very little to say after the game.


March 17/09 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning, Leafs win 4-3 in a shoot-out.

"That was unbelievable", said Ron Wilson, not so much for the Leafs' remarkable comeback effort this night, but for the ovation his team received as they left the ice on a Tuesday night in Tampa Bay. Down 3-0 on the road to the Lightning, the Leafs were encouraged by the surprising number of noisy supporters and fought back to tie the game at 3 with 2 goals in the 3rd period.

The two teams went to overtime, and then to a shoot-out, and after 6 shooters had made their attempts, only 2 had scored - Lecavalier for the Lightning, and for the Leafs it was Hamilton, who'd also scored the tying goal with 5 and a half minutes to go. 5 more skaters take their shots, none with success. Finally, John F. Mitchell, the 12th shooter, mercifully finishes it, and the Leafs leave the ice as heroes to a standing ovation. Never mind the points in the standings, the playoffs, or draft picks - this was the kind of game that being a Leafs fan is all about. Every once in a while, 2 or 3 times a year, you get a game like this where Leafs Nation actually makes a difference to the outcome. "That crowd was crazy," said Cujo. "I told the guys in the room this atmosphere was like Game 6 of the Stanley Cup final".


February 28/09 vs. Ottawa Senators, Leafs win 4-3 in overtime.

The Leafs head into Ottawa enjoying a 3-game winning streak at the end of February and once again Cujo gets the start and is terrific in goal. After Toronto lets a 2-0 first period lead slip away in the 2nd, Alfie the Clown then breaks the tie in the third to give the Sens a 3-2 lead.

Schenn, Van Ryn, Frogren, and even Kaberle were all healthy and in the line-up for this one, yet it was Pavel Kubina emerging as the hero of the night. Scoring a powerplay goal with 5:12 to go in the third to tie the game, Kubina then scores again in overtime, just 33 seconds in, when he finishes a nice 3-on-2 rush with Stajan and White for the victory. Another great night on the road with the Leafs leaving the ice to a standing ovation, though not exactly an unusual occurrence in Kanata.


March 24/09 vs. Washington Capitals, Leafs win 3-2 in a shoot-out.

What started out as a dull, uninteresting game eventually featured one of the most dramatic endings of the season. After a scoreless first period, the Leafs and Caps exchanged goals in the 2nd. A powerplay goal by Kubina put the Leafs ahead, 2-1, with just 2:08 to go in the 3rd, but then a controversial goal by Brooks Laich, pitchforking Gerber and the puck into the net, ties the game again. At that point, with 57 seconds left in regulation and 8 games left in the season and his career hanging in the balance, the GRBRZRKR decides he's not gonna take it anymore.

Gerber heroically martyrs himself by bumping the ref and shooting the puck down the ice, resulting in a match penalty and a 3-game suspension. Enter Cujo, who makes a brilliant save in the final minute off Ovechkin, and then makes 8 sensational saves in overtime with the crowd behind him roaring louder and louder for each one. The extra period ends with Leafs fans standing on their feet. Hamilton, looking like a shoot-out specialist, opens the scoring on the first shot, giving Cujo all he would need as he then stones Backstrom, Semin, and finally Alexander the Great in stunning succession. The Leafs win it, their 4th in 5 games, and Joseph is named the first star - a great way to remember a great Leaf goaltender.


January 8/09 vs. Montreal Canadians, Leafs lose 2-6.

Now why would a 4-goal loss be included in the Top Ten Leaf games of the season, especially a loss to those dirty, disgusting Habs? Well, even though the score here is a little disappointing, there was an even bigger score that needed to be settled, and the Leafs responded the way they should, with passion and defiance, sometimes known as "piss and vinegar".

Brad May, acquired one day earlier by Brian Burke, set the tone early, providing a strong example for rookies like Grabovski and Schenn to follow. Mayers, quiet for most of the season up to this point, also stepped up and delivered, scoring a decisive victory over Kostopoulos in the 2nd period, landing about 7 or 8 solid jabs in a row, which is still about a thousand less then he deserved. The two teams combined for 150 penalty minutes as the Leafs proved they weren't afraid to make a mockery of a hockey game just to make a statement.

This moment, for me, is one of the most important moments, not just of this season, but potentially in this whole re-building process. While Grabbo's spirit may have gone a bit too far, at least it was goin' in the right direction - towards the Montreal players, and not towards his bench. Just like the GRBRZRKR's experience, Grabbo earns a 3-game suspension, yet it was all easily worth it. As he leaves the ice, arms raised above his head in a double peace-sign salute, there's a sense of triumph and satisfaction, and suddenly, even more then after the Kostopoulos hit on Van Ryn, the Leafs-Habs rivalry is wonderfully re-ignited and meaningful again, and looks like it will be for as long as Grabbo's blazing red hair runs wild and free for the Blue and White.


November 1/08 vs. NY Rangers, Leafs win 5-2.

The Leafs begin the month that matters with a bang. The best game Chemmy ever watched in his entire life. Looking for their 4th win in 5 games, these young Leafs were starting to generate some excitement and optimism after only 10 games. Down 2-0 in the third with 10 minutes to go, the Leafs didn't give up and neither did the fans. Finally, at 12:36 of the 3rd, it was John F. Mitchell sparking the comeback.

“I just fist-pumped as many times as I could,” said Mitchell, whose contagious energy was caught by the fans and then amplified back to the team as they seized the momentum. “It certainly was a burst of energy—it came all at once,” said Moore. “It seemed like it must have been pent up. With the fans, as well, they sort of released their (energy) all together.” Suddenly the Leafs were buzzing in the Rangers' zone, and just 1:26 later Jason Blake's tip ties the game. 52 seconds after that, Kubina hammers one from the point and gives the Leafs the lead, but they weren't done yet. A minute and 12 seconds later, Mitchell scores again to make it 4-2, and then finally, 1:51 after that, Mitchell assists on the last goal of the game from Dominic Moore. 5 Leaf goals in 5 minutes and 21 seconds, and with each one, the crowd at the ACC seemed to get louder and louder. It was a magical night, the kind of game that dreams are made of, and a reminder of a what things might be like in Toronto when we finally have a contender capable of playing with this kind of energy and firepower every night.


February 21/09 vs. Vancouver Canucks, Leafs lose 2-3 in a shoot-out.

Is anyone surprised? The Mats Sundin game is my choice for the number 1 Leaf game of the year. This was a game for the history books. For all the build up, for all the hype, for all the heartache and love that Mats Sundin had left behind, there was no disappointment with this one, only grace and magic. The most compelling and moving moment on ACC ice this season was proudly delivered by those Leaf fans in attendance, directed at the former Captain, whose years of leadership and excellence were far from forgotten.

It's not too often that you get to see a perfect game, but this was it. Even if it had been scripted, no one would care, 'cause it was the right script. The game goes to a shoot-out, and after Grabovski scores a beautiful goal on Luongo, the final shooter, with a chance to win the game for Vancouver, is Sundin.

Yes! You couldn't ask for more drama then that. The noise from the crowd as the Canucks celebrate is unbelievable. What a turn of events. What a finish. What a way for Mats Sundin to return to Toronto and make everything right. And what a night for Leaf fans who demonstrated that they are the greatest, classiest, and most passionate hockey fans the sport has ever seen. While the Leafs may have lost the game, they gained a sense of closure on the past, and a truly emotional lift that helped them to win their next four games. Nevermind the final score, for which records show the Leafs gaining a single point for an overtime loss, this game was perfect, and you can't do better then that.

Thanks to everyone who made it all the way through the season and this post. Hope you enjoyed my list and if there's a game that you think was worth mentioning let me know. There's still one game left, Saturday against Ottawa, and I expect the Leafs to go all out. Should be a good end to a mostly bad season.

By the way, there's only 2 days left in my poll, so if you haven't voted, do it quick, before it's too late!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Burke Won't Trade Kubina

Saw this quote from Brian Burke yesterday in the Star:

"I'm tired of watching teams come in here and push us around. I'm tired of seeing our trainer being on the ice... We have to find a defence that can stay intact. ... We have to figure out how we can get more games out of the guys we have or we have to get more durable people back there."

The Curse of Colaiacovo lingers on apparently, as injury problems have continued to plague the Leafs' blue-line this season. Burke however, has had enough and seems to be indicating with this comment a preference towards keeping or moving certain defenders based on their ability to endure the physical punishment of an 82-game schedule at the NHL level.

Mike Van Ryn - - played in only 27 games for the Maple Leafs this season. While Kostopolous is to blame for the initial dirty hit that sent Mike to the hospital, Van Ryn has had a run of bad luck with injuries for 2 years straight now. Last year with the Panthers, Van Ryn appeared in only 20 games after surgeries on his wrists. It's disappointing that Van Ryn has not been able to put together a healthy stretch that would have allowed him to replace McCabe's lost offence and skill.

Jonas Frogren - - made it into only 41 games this year and now his season is over due to a knee injury suffered March 7th against Edmonton. Many of the games he missed in the first half of the season he was a healthy scratch, but too often he missed opportunities to have a regular role because of his own bumps and bruises. Given that his contract has now cost the Leafs a bundle of money and a draft pick, Burke's not likely to have much patience if Frogren can't stay healthy next year. I love the Viking's bravery and sacrifice when it comes to blocking shots and taking the body, but "fearless" does not equal "indestructible".

Tomas Kaberle - - has appeared in 52 games this year and is hopefully back in the line-up for the final two weeks. His mysterious hand injury, which occurred just before the trade deadline, has kept him out of the line-up at an important time of the season, though I can't truthfully say that the team has suffered from it. Wilson's system seems to function even without Tomas on the blue line and Kaberle's absence has actually had the reverse benefit of allowing other players to develop with increased ice time.

Jeff Finger - - has played in 61 games so far, missing 7 games at the very beginning of the season due to a foot injury suffered in the preseason. He also missed 2 weeks in January with an "upper-body" injury. To his credit, Finger has 129 hits and leads the Leafs in blocked shots with 147, and despite missing 16 games, he's still 5th on the team for total ice-time.

Luke Schenn - - has played admirably in 65 games for the Leafs and looks like he'll finish with 70 in his rookie season. Despite the games he's missed, he is 3rd on the team for overall ice-time, and no one on the Leafs has thrown as many hits. In fact, no one is even close to laying the body as often as OLAS. While Finger ranks second on the team with 129 hits, Schenn has delivered 191 bone-crushers to his jellied opponents.

Ian White - - was a healthy scratch for the first 11 games but has been in the line-up ever since. He's now played 66 games this year consecutively, and is second on the team in total ice time. Not just average ice time - he's second in that category too - but total ice time. This year's Masterton nominee for the Leafs has shown the exact kind of resilience and smarts that I'm sure Wilson and Burke are looking for on the blue line for next year.

Anton Stralman - - has appeared in 38 games this year with the big club, and also 32 with the Marlies, for 70 games total, and as far as I know, has not suffered any serious physical setbacks. If he can have a strong finish in the playoffs with the Marlies it'll reflect well on him when he comes to camp in September.

Pavel Kubina - - has played in all 77 games so far this season for the Leafs. If ever there was a player for whom the words "solid" and "durable" could be applied, it is Kubina. His play this season, while short of spectacular, has been consistently good enough, giving the Leafs at least some blue-line stability. Kubina tops all Leaf players in total ice time this season, enduring over 1,700 minutes of NHL competition without missing a step. At 6'4" and 244 pounds, he's a big presence on the blue line or in front of the net, and while he plays a less physical game then Schenn, Finger, or Frogren, he doesn't seem to ever shy away from physical contact. While Ponikarovsky has really come on lately to become the team's top forward, Kubina has been steady all season and may in fact be the team's most valuable player this year. 86 hits, 121 blocked shots, 14 goals, 26 assists, 40 points, 9 powerplay goals, and a very impressive 4 game winning goals. Kubina's 5-million dollar salary makes him the most expensive player on the team, but he's giving the Leafs excellent value that can be counted on like money in the bank. For these reasons, I would now be very surprised if Kubina was moved over the summer. If anything can be assumed from reading Burke's quote at the top, it's that Kubina is type of defenceman that Burke will be seeking to add, not replace.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

White For Masterton!

"I can't wait to play, forward, defence, whatever. If Vesa (Toskala) or Cujo (Curtis Joseph) get hurt, I'll play between the pipes too. I just want to play."
- Ian White, Oct. 17/08
A sincere congratulations to Ian White for his selection as the Maple Leafs' nominee for the Masterton Trophy. I seriously doubt he will win it, but I've actually been suggesting he was a worthy candidate since early December, though I was only half-serious as usual. I thought the Leafs' nomination might go to Jason Blake again, who would've been a deserving candidate still, but since he won the award last year, it's nice that they chose to recognize White's "perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication".
This is the way things used to go for Ian White. As you can see, his style of defending usually involved lying on his stomach and yelling, "NOOOOOO!". Predictably, the puck would then hit his skate and deflect perfectly through Raycroft's gaping five-hole. Check the picture above closely and notice how Raycroft doesn't even seem to be looking at the puck - he's looking at an empty space between his stick and his glove. You can't really fault Ian for this play - if you had Raycrap in goal behind you, you'd be lying on your stomach screaming, "NOOOOOO!" as well.

I like White's Attitude. He's always struck me as an honest and thoughtful person who sincerely cared about his performance and contribution. Now in his 3rd full season in the NHL, White has grow with the Leafs from a youthful, optimistic rookie to a confused and conflicted sophomore to a confident, reliable role model. Brian Burke gives his own description: "He's smart and intense. A versatile leader." And he's not even 25 years old.
Gosh, he's a little guy, though. Regardless, White plays big, and carries the weight of Wendel's mustache with honour. One thing I've enjoyed about Ian White's game this year is his spirited enthusiasm for dropping the gloves with some of the league's other lightweights. Kovalchuk, Naslund, and Clutterbuck (what a name), all got a taste of the White Tornado this year and were lucky they didn't get demolished. (During the Kovalchuk fight, we hear this revelation at the :30 mark; "Leaf strength coach Matt Nicholas said that Ian White pound for pound is the strongest guy on this hockey team.”). We need to bring back Belak, fast.
I don't have anything funny or interesting to add to this photo, I just think it's an awesome picture. Wouldn't be surprised to see it appear on Vintage Leafs someday.

White's stats for the year are: 65GP, 9G (career high), 15A, 24P, +2, 57PIMs, 2 powerplay goals and 1 game winning goal. He is 2 points away from a career high there as well, and has achieved all of this after being a healthy scratch through the first 11 games of the season. Unable to crack the line-up in October as either a forward or a defenceman, Ian White scored in his first game of the season, November 2nd (6-4 loss to Carolina), the first goal of the game, in the first period at 6:28.
So, once again, congratulations to Ian White. Perseverance, dedication, and even sportsmanship (if you don't count beating up lightweights) really is rewarding and sets an excellent example for the next generation of Leaf youngsters. Like Todd Gill did once before, White proved that hard work and an optimistic approach, more then size or talent, is the key to having to a job in the NHL. And of course, never forget that rockin' a wicked porn star 'stache will increase your stud-power by 100.