By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Feb. 12) – The irony of the situation began to take hold midway through the second period, when it was all but certain the Maple Leafs had nothing on a night that meant everything. My memory backtracked almost 13 years to the day – Feb. 13, 1999 – when another pre-game party was ruined by the clash that followed. It was the final night of hockey at Maple Leaf Gardens and the Chicago Blackhawks served up the Leafs heads on a platter in a demoralizing 6-2 romp. Thirteen years… again, the irony. That was Mats Sundin’s number during a long, record-setting term with the Blue and White – one that culminated in an emotional, banner-raising ceremony before Saturday’s game against Montreal.
They should have kept the lights off at the Air Canada Centre.
In a virtual reprise of the final night at the Gardens nearly a decade-and-a-half ago, the Canadiens were major party-poopers. The Leafs? Well, let’s politely suggest they left their game either on the ice during the Sundin ceremony, or in the dressing room well beforehand. A 5-0 Montreal shellacking – easily built on four unanswered goals in the second period – had Leaf supporters in an ugly mood.
If AM-640 is seeking additional sponsorship for Andy Frost’s post-game call-in show, the radio station should team up with the manufacturer of Prozac. Hopefully, the producer of Andy’s show filed away the initial call – from an immensely-distraught person named Frank – who claimed to have dropped $1,000 on tickets for the mis-match; left early; chastised Ron Wilson as “the worst coach in the history of the franchise”; suggested Brian Burke is sitting on a club-altering trade the GM simply refuses to make, and prayed, several times, for an entirely different Leafs team. When Frost – whose patience is legendary – tried to calm the hysterical man, suggesting Tuesday night in Calgary is a “new game”, frantic Frank quickly replied that no future games matter. “Calgary? Edmonton? Vancouver? Andy, do you know how ugly it’s going to be out there?” Frank asked. When Frost suggested he might feel better in the morning – and that other callers were waiting – Frank lost it. “Andy… don’t cut me off, Andy. I’m a die-hard Leaf fan and I’m disgusted with this team. Please let me talk. Andy… Andy…”
And, that was the most rational call of the night.
FOR DIE-HARD LEAF SUPPORTERS ON HAND AT THE ACC SATURDAY, MATS SUNDIN’S BANNER-RAISING CEREMONY (ABOVE) WAS CLEARLY THE HIGHLIGHT.
Leaf fans: Why are you driving yourselves crazy? Don’t you realize – by now – the familiar pattern your team is in… one that is shared by three-quarters of the National Hockey League? Rather than getting into it again, how about reviewing the blog I wrote in this space after the Habs knocked off the Leafs at the ACC three weeks ago? Here’s the link…
Now, compare your frame of mind today with the euphoria you undoubtedly experienced as the Leafs were humiliating Ottawa just a week ago in the nation’s capital… by the same 5-0 score. James Reimer, whom you undoubtedly hope to never-again see between the pipes, was the toast of Leafs Nation, having recorded his second consecutive shut-out. With a 4-0-1 record in their previous five games, Leafs had enviable goaltending – Wilson able to choose Reimer or Jonas Gustavsson with confidence. Suddenly, neither can play. Did Optimus Reim forget his craft from one Saturday to the next? Did the Leafs – riding a 10-4-2 burst in January – suffer team-wide amnesia on the flight to Winnipeg late Monday after an easy home-ice victory over Edmonton? Or, is a quick three-game losing streak merely indicative of the up-and-down posture displayed by all but a handful of teams in the NHL?
Along those lines, remember how you feel today when the Leafs go into Montreal on Mar. 3 and return the favor; I’ll bet you dollars to donuts the Blue and White will dominate that game. Why? It’s simply the way things go among the vast conglomerate of teams that separates the elite from the run-of-the-mill in hockey’s best league. If a desperate trade could alter the pattern, GMs would be swapping players every week of the season… salary cap or no cap. It just doesn’t work like that, and falling into emotional disarray by tracking the Eastern Conference standings on a nightly basis in early-February will do you nothing but harm.
Relax, now, and try to enjoy my photo-review of Mats Sundin Night at the ACC:
I SNAPPED THIS INTRIGUING IMAGE ON THE WAY DOWN TO SATURDAY’S GAME WITH A FEATURE ON MY CAMERA THAT HOLDS OPEN THE SHUTTER FOR A FEW SECONDS. YOU CAN PROBABLY MAKE OUT THE CN TOWER (SEVERAL OF THEM, IN FACT) TO THE RIGHT. THE YELLOWISH SQUIGGLY LINES ARE AUTOMOBILE HEADLIGHTS ON THE NORTHBOUND DON VALLEY PARKWAY; THE RED ONES, TAIL-LIGHTS IN FRONT OF ME IN THE SOUTHBOUND LANES. THE ENTIRE IMAGE OFFERS A SOUND REPRESENTATION OF FRAYED NERVES AMONG LEAF FOLLOWERS TODAY.
THERE WERE MATS SUNDINS ALL OVER THE ICE DURING THE WARM-UP SATURDAY, AS LEAF PLAYERS WORE HIS FAMILIAR NO. 13 JERSEY IN A PRE-GAME TRIBUTE.
VETERAN LINESMAN GREG DEVORSKI (ABOVE) WAS OBLIVIOUS TO THE SUNDIN SIGHTINGS AS HE WENT THROUGH A PRE-GAME WORK-OUT NEAR THE OFFICIALS’ DRESSING ROOM.
AND KUDOS TO FELLOW LINESMAN BRAD KOVACHIK (ABOVE, IN THE OFFICIALS’ DRESSING ROOM), WHO WORKED HIS 1000th NHL GAME ON SATURDAY. THE 40-YEAR-OLD NATIVE OF WOODSTOCK, ONT. MADE HIS NHL DEBUT ON OCT. 10, 1996 (LOS ANGELES AT PHILADELPHIA). HE STANDS IN FRONT OF LEAFS BENCH DURING A TV TIME-OUT ON SATURDAY (BELOW-LEFT) AND COLLECTS A PUCK FROM JAMES REIMER AFTER A STOPPAGE IN PLAY.
CBC CAMERAS IN LAST ROW OF THE RED SEATS AT CENTRE-ICE AWAIT SUNDIN’S ARRIVAL.
THE LEAFS ALL-TIME LEADING SCORER, STANDING BESIDE WIFE JOSEPHINE, ACKNOWLEDGES THE ACC CROWD (ABOVE) DURING A LONG, ROUSING OVATION AND IS ALL SMILES (BELOW) AS THE DIN CONTINUES.
MATS WAS HONORED AND PROUD TO HAVE HIS MOM, DAD AND WIFE ON THE ICE WITH HIM – ALL FOUR (ABOVE) COMING IN FROM STOCKHOLM FOR THE BIG NIGHT.
HIS IMAGE FLASHED ON THE ACC VIDEOBOARD (ABOVE), SUNDIN ADDRESSED THE CROWD WITH AN INSPIRING TALK THAT ENCOMPASSED HAPPY MEMORIES AND SADNESS OVER COACHES AND TEAMMATES LOST RECENTLY (PAT BURNS, WADE BELAK, IGOR KOROLEV, ALEXANDER KARPOVSTEV) – HIS RANGE OF EMOTION EVIDENT BELOW.
THERE WERE HAPPY EXCHANGES BETWEEN SUNDIN AND LONG-TIME LEAFS TEAMMATE TOMAS KABERLE (ABOVE), NOW WITH MONTREAL… AND AN ENCOURAGING WORD FOR THE PLAYER (BELOW) THAT SUCCEEDED HIM AS CAPTAIN.
SUNDIN DROPS PUCK BETWEEN KABERLE AND DION PHANEUF IN CEREMONIAL FACE-OFF.
THE SUNDIN FAMILY WATCHES PROUDLY (ABOVE) AS THE NO. 13 BANNER IS RAISED TO THE GIRDERS OF THE ACC – PLACED, LIKELY WITHOUT COINCIDENCE, NEXT TO FELLOW-SWEDE BORJE SALMING (BELOW).
SUNDIN AUCTION ITEMS WERE PARAMOUNT THROUGHOUT THE ACC.
FOR LEAF FANS, THIS WAS UNDOUBTEDLY THE BEST PART OF SATURDAY NIGHT’S GAME: THE OPENING FACE-OFF (ABOVE). IT WAS ALL DOWNHILL FROM THERE.
SCOTT GOMEZ OF THE CANADIENS HAD SOME JUMP IN HIS STEP (ABOVE), TWO NIGHTS AFTER BUSTING A YEAR-LONG GOAL DROUGHT.
THE ABOVE IMAGE WAS A MICROCOSM OF REIMER’S NIGHT… HE HAD DIFFICULTY STOPPING THE PUCK, AND HOLDING ONTO HIS GOAL-STICK.
THESE FACIAL EXPRESSIONS (ABOVE AND BELOW) TELL THE STORY, AS LEAF PLAYERS ENDURE A HUMILIATING NIGHT AGAINST THE CANADIENS WHILE WEARING NO. 13 PATCHES ON THEIR JERSEYS IN HONOR OF SUNDIN.
THE BIG SWEDE DREW MORE APPLAUSE WHEN HE WAS INTERVIEWED ON THE ACC VIDEOBOARD (ABOVE) NEAR THE MIDWAY MARK OF THE SCORELESS OPENING PERIOD.
CAREY PRICE (ABOVE RIGHT) WAS BUSIER THAN REIMER, AS THE LEAFS OUTSHOT MONTREAL. BUT, THE HABS GOALIE DID NOT HAVE TO BE SPECTACULAR TO EARN HIS FOURTH SHUT-OUT OF THE SEASON.
SUNDIN’S EYES GREW DAMP (ABOVE) DURING A GATHERING WITH REPORTERS IN THE FIRST INTERMISSION WHEN HE TALKED ABOUT HAVING HIS FAMILY PRESENT FOR THE BANNER-RAISING CEREMONY. THE LONG-TIME LEAFS CAPTAIN WAS THEN RATHER DEMONSTRATIVE (BELOW) WHILE FIELDING A VARIETY OF QUESTIONS IN THE ACC MEDIA LOUNGE.
THE ROGERS MEDIA CENTRE WAS PACKED WITH REPORTERS FROM CANADA AND SWEDEN, AS SUNDIN ANSWERED QUESTIONS FOR MORE THAN 20 MINUTES.
LOUIS LEBLANC AND MATHIEU DARCHE OF THE CANADIENS AWAIT TEAMMATES (ABOVE) AS VISITORS’ DRESSING ROOM GUARD, CRAIG, KEEPS SPECTATORS AT BAY. HABS’ ASSISTANT COACH RANDY LADOUCEUR (BELOW) – WHO HELD THE SAME POST UNDER PAUL MAURICE WITH THE LEAFS – GIVES DARCHE A TIP, AS CAREY PRICE PASSES ON WAY TO THE ICE FOR SECOND PERIOD.
JOSEPHINE AND MATS SUNDIN SAT NEXT TO LEAFS CHAIRMAN LARRY TANENBAUM (ABOVE), AND ALL THREE REFLECTED THE CARNAGE ON THE ICE. THE MOOD LIGHTENED, HOWEVER, AS THE SUNDINS WATCHED A HUMOROUS TRIBUTE (BELOW) ON THE VIDEOBOARD DURING A TELEVISION BREAK.
VETERAN ERIK COLE (ABOVE) PROVIDED THE CANADIENS ALL THE OFFENSE THEY WOULD NEED ON THIS NIGHT, OPENING THE SCORING WITH HIS 20th OF THE SEASON AT 5:01 OF THE SECOND PERIOD.
THE LEAFS PERFECT MARK ON THE PENALTY KILL IN 2012 (28-FOR-28) FINALLY CAME TO AN END (ABOVE) WHEN MAX PACIORETTY SCORED A POWERPLAY GOAL AT 15:54 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME, WHILE TIM CONNOLLY WAS OFF FOR SLASHING.
FANS OF EACH TEAM SAT SIDE-BY-SIDE, THOUGH THE HABS’ ROOTER (ABOVE) RUBBED IT INTO “FELIX POTVIN” BY WEARING A CAPE THAT INDICATED MONTREAL’S 10-0 EDGE IN CHAMPIONSHIPS SINCE 1967.
THE MATS SUNDIN-NIGHT SCOREBOARD (ABOVE) IN THE SECOND INTERMISSION. UGGHH!
HAVING ALLOWED ALL FOUR GOALS IN THE MIDDLE FRAME, REIMER TOOK A SEAT AT THE END OF THE LEAFS BENCH (ABOVE) TO BEGIN THE THIRD PERIOD – BACK-UP JONAS GUSTAVSSON GETTING THE CALL ONLY TO BE BEATEN BY THE FIRST SHOT HE FACED.
REFEREE GREG KIMMERLY DROPS THE PUCK AT CENTRE-ICE (ABOVE), AS TYLER BOZAK DIGS IN AGAINST DAVID DESHAMAIS.
IT WAS A LONG NIGHT FOR THE CURRENT LEAFS CAPTAIN (ABOVE) AND AN EASY ONE FOR THE VISITORS (BELOW).
Facebook: Howard Berger [Thornhill ON]