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!


kidkawartha said...

You should really re-post this at PPP. Not to take away from your site, I just want as many people to see this as possible. It's awesome. Maybe on Sunday?

Down Goes Brown said...

I was going to put together a list of my own, but I think you covered it.

The one oversight, which would have been high on my list, is the Penguins game when Schenn muredered Malkin.

Navin Vaswani (@eyebleaf) said...

Hard to disagree with this list. Sundin's return was just unreal.

And that Rangers game was something else. The boys just went apeshit.

Great post, buddy.

blurr1974 said...

Great stuff as always general.

I just found myself watching all the highlight vids again and again. I was even biting my nails on number 8.

The Blake shootout goal, the more I see it, the less I like it. Don't know why, but it just doesn't feel like that's the "forward motion" the rulee book is referring to.

Oh well, a win's a win...

general borschevsky said...

Hey Kid-k! That's about the highest compliment I could ever receive. Thanks.

@DGB: I'd still like to see your list. I bet it's funnier.

@eyebleaf: Cheers, as always!

Thanks blurr! Hey, do what you gotta do, I guess. If the referee doesn't have the guts to make the call... as long as it counts, making us laugh too is a bonus.

puckbuddy said...

I would of liked to see a mention of the first game of the season. Going in to play the champs, a young unknown unproven team that for months was talked about as one of the league's worse and to come out and play like they have the whole game was incredible! It was like the Leafs were finally headed into a new and right direction. The team played like one and one that we Leafs fans been longing for years.

general borschevsky said...

Hey puckbuddy! Great comment. I wanted to mention the opener against Detroit. Moore and Kulemin both scored big goals, and then Wilson made the "crayons" comment after the game.

There were 3 good games against Pittsburgh this year. December 20th Antropov and Kaberle each had 3-point nights in a 7-4 romp. January 31st, the game DGB mentioned, Leafs won 5-4 and Schenn laid out Malkin and was named first star. And February 14th, the Leafs were down 2-1 and scored 5 goals in the 3rd period to win 6-2.

The last game in my top 15 would be the 8-6 win against Calgary, March 14th. Even though the Leafs scored 8 goals, the outcome was in doubt until Grabbo scored into an empty net with Burke standing and applauding.