Starch Gone From Leafs

By HOWARD BERGER

TORONTO (Mar. 21) – Perhaps I’m jaded after all my years around the Leafs but I have to be honest: There wasn’t much about the past two games that surprised me. Obviously, I wouldn’t have predicted an 8-0 final in Boston, yet the entire 27-hour scene was familiar – analogous to watching a re-run of those mid-1970s disaster flicks (Towering Inferno, Earthquake, Poseidon Adventure). Pass the popcorn, will you?

Oddly, the Bruins frightened the suspenders off the Leafs in 2011-12. Five of the six meetings between the Northeast Division foes were decided in the dressing room before the opening face-off. That’s what happens when an opponent gets into your head. I say “oddly” only because the Leafs defeated Boston on four occasions a year ago – twice at the TD Garden. And the Bruins – remember – were on their way to a Stanley Cup title for the first time since 1972. Perhaps the memory of a bearded, bellowing Zdeno Chara snatching the mug from Gary Bettman in Vancouver and raising it like a thimble sent Phil Kessel and Co. over the edge. That was kind of hideous, as I recall.

Otherwise, the Leafs have often come home in recent years and laid an egg one night after a triumphant road game. It happened rather frequently during the 100-point seasons under Pat Quinn, garnering all manner of angst as the club battled for division titles and home-ice advantage in the playoffs. Why anyone might expect the current Leafs to promptly recover from an eight-goal obliteration is enigmatic, if not foolish.

JOHN TAVARES, MATT MOULSON AND CO. HUMILIATED THE LEAFS ON TUESDAY.

Still, it had to be awfully demoralizing for Brian Burke, Randy Carlyle and the club’s browbeaten zealots to watch the Islanders toy with the Blue and White in the late going on Tuesday. This is neither to excuse the Leafs for their collapse nor to indict the fans for their response, but I can tell you – without equivocation – that a rink full of booing supporters becomes an emotional train-wreck for the home team. Leafs could have opened the dressing room six hours after the Islander debacle and had the same, defeated expression on their faces. Under no circumstance was this fragile collection capable of overcoming the shame and embarrassment of the previous night. Whatever starch was left in the hockey club – and its fan-base – got pounded into submission at the TD Garden.

It wasn’t easy getting home from Boston. Join me, now, for a photo-log of that odyssey and the graphic evidence of Tuesday night’s cave-in against the Islanders:

AFTER A 1:20 P.M. FLIGHT CANCELLATION BECAUSE OF FOG IN TORONTO, I WAS RE-BOOKED ON A 3:35 PLANE OUT OF LOGAN AIRPORT. THE SURFACE-CLOUD HAD DISSIPATED BY THE TIME WE CROSSED LAKE ONTARIO AND IT MADE FOR SPECTACULAR VIEWS OF THE CNE AND ONTARIO PLACE (ABOVE); THE CN TOWER, ROGERS CENTRE AND DOWNTOWN CORE (BELOW).

DRIVING FROM PEARSON AIRPORT TO THE AIR CANADA CENTRE IN THE TEETH OF THE AFTERNOON COMMUTE WAS NO PICNIC, AS YOU CAN TELL FROM THE ABOVE IMAGE.

FOG-PATCHES WERE STILL IN EVIDENCE (ABOVE) AS I MADE MY WAY ALONG THE EASTBOUND GARDINER TOWARD DOWNTOWN, THOUGH IT WAS CLEAR IN THE VICINITY OF THE ACC.

JOHN TAVARES AND HIS NEW YORK ISLANDER TEAMMATES HORSE AROUND (ABOVE) NEAR THE END OF THE PRE-GAME WARM-UP. THE MISSISSAUGA NATIVE THEN WAITS WITH REFEREE TIM PEEL (BELOW) FOR OPENING FACE-OFF.

JOHN-MICHAEL LILES (ABOVE-LEFT) BEGAN THE RUSH THAT CLUMINATED WITH PHIL KESSEL FIRING A SHOT OFF THE NET-CAM BEHIND A SPRAWLED EVGENI NABOKOV (RIGHT) – THE OPENING TALLY CONFIRMED AFTER A VIDEO-REVIEW (BELOW).

ISLANDERS TIED THE MATCH LESS THAN FIVE MINUTES LATER WHEN TAVARES FLIPPED A PASS OVER LUKE SCHENN’S STICK FOR AN EASY TAP-IN BY JOSH BAILEY (ABOVE-LEFT) AND THE FOLLOW-UP CELEBRATION.

TAVARES AND MATT MOULSON CHAT (ABOVE) DURING A TELEVISION BREAK.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE-LEFT: KESSEL DOUBLES BACK ON AN ISLANDER RUSH; CARTER ASHTON AND KYLE OKPOSO BATTLE FOR PUCK ALONG THE BOARDS; BACK-UP GOALIE AL MONTOYA WATCHES ACTION FROM THE BENCH WITH VETERAN DEFENSEMAN (AND HAMILTON NATIVE) STEVE STAIOS; JAMES REIMER REFRESHES DURING A TV TIME-OUT. THE FIRST PERIOD ENDED WITH THE CLUBS DEADLOCKED, 1-1.

LEAFS MOVE PUCK FROM DEFENSIVE ZONE ON FRESH ICE (ABOVE) EARLY IN THE SECOND.

TAVARES TOOK A HEAVY TUMBLE INTO THE END-BOARDS AND GLIDED TO THE VISITORS’ BENCH IN DISCOMFORT. BUT, HE TOWELED OFF (ABOVE) AND WAS AVAILABLE FOR A DRAW AGAINST DAVID STECKEL MOMENTS LATER.

MATT FRATTIN KEPT A CLOSE EYE (ABOVE) ON JOSH BAILEY DURING FACE-OFF.

MOULSON WAS A PAIN-IN-THE-NECK FOR THE LEAFS ALL NIGHT LONG… ESTABLISHING POSITION (ABOVE) BETWEEN REIMER AND MIKE KOMISAREK, AND THEN MISSING A GREAT SCORING CHANCE (BELOW-RIGHT) SECONDS LATER AS THE ISLANDERS BUZZED THE TORONTO GOAL WITH THE GAME STILL TIED.

ISLANDERS P.A. PARENTEAU (ABOVE) LEADS A THREE-ON-THREE RUSH.

MOULSON HEADS TOWARD FACE-OFF (ABOVE) AFTER TV BREAK AS ISLANDER CAPTAIN MARK STREIT RELAXES AT BENCH.

MATT LOMBARDI PROVIDED LEAFS THEIR SECOND LEAD OF THE NIGHT, BUT THE ISLANDERS DREW EVEN ONCE AGAIN ON A GOAL BY DAVID ULLSTROM (ABOVE) AT 13:08. THE VISITORS DID NOT TRAIL AFTER THAT.

A BROADCASTING LEGEND AND GOOD FRIEND WAS IN THE HOUSE ON TUESDAY, AS KEN (JIGGS) McDONALD CALLED THE MATCH FOR THE ISLANDERS ON TV, AND SPENT A FEW MOMENTS WITH LEAFS RADIO ANALYST JIM RALPH (ABOVE) IN THE SECOND INTERMISSION. JIGGS – A NATIVE OF ORILLIA, ONT. – WAS ORIGINAL TV VOICE OF THE LOS ANGELES KINGS IN 1967 AND ATLANTA FLAMES IN 1972. HE JOINED THE ISLANDERS IN 1980 AND CALLED MANY OF THE CLUB’S GREAT MOMENTS DURING THE FOUR-STANLEY-CUP DYNASTY OF THE EARLY-’80s. HE SPENT A COUPLE OF SEASONS WORKING MID-WEEK GAMES HERE IN TORONTO AND LATER CALLED ACTION FOR THE FLORIDA PANTHERS. JIGGS RETIRED AFTER THE 2003-04 SEASON BUT HAS SUBBED FOR HOWIE ROSE ON ISLANDER TELECASTS SINCE 2006-07. HE’S A SPRY 74 AND ONE OF THE FINEST GENTLEMEN IN THE BUSINESS.  

LEAFS WERE SHORTHANDED EARLY IN THE THIRD PERIOD (ABOVE) BUT WERE ABLE TO WITHSTAND MORE PESTERING FROM MOULSON (BELOW) AND KILL OFF THE HIGH-STICKING CALL AGAINST MIKHAIL GRABOVSKI.

A DION PHANEUF CALGARY FLAMES JERSEY WAS SPOTTED AMONG FANS BENEATH THE PRESS BOX (ABOVE) WHILE A 1980s WENDEL CLARK REPLICA ADORNED ANOTHER SPECTATOR (BELOW-LEFT). THE FELLOW AT BOTTOM-RIGHT MUST HAVE BEEN A “PLANT” AFTER MONDAY’S DEBACLE IN BEANTOWN, THOUGH IT WAS BOBBY ORR’S 64th BIRTHDAY.

LEAFS ASSISTANT GM DAVID NONIS (MIDDLE-ABOVE) WAS NEITHER IGNORING “LUKE’S TROOPS” IN THE THIRD PERIOD NOR ABOUT TO KEEL OVER IN THE EXECUTIVE BOOTH, AS IT APPEARED. I SIMPLY CAUGHT HIM IN THE MIDST OF A BLINK AS HE STOOD BETWEEN BRIAN BURKE AND DAVE POULIN. HIS EXPRESSION, HOWEVER, WOULD BE DUPLICATED BY JUST ABOUT EVERYONE IN THE ACC AS THE MATCH WOUND TO A CLOSE.

CLOCKWISE FROM ABOVE-LEFT, THE DETERMINING MOMENTS OF TUESDAY’S MATCH: ISLANDERS COACH JACK CAPUANO YELLS OUT AS MATT FRATTIN’S SHOT INADVERTANTLY GOES INTO THE CROWD FOR A DELAY-OF-GAME INFRACTION; TAVARES THEN FEEDS MOULSON FOR THE WINNING GOAL AT 13:56 – REIMER SCOOPING OUT THE PUCK IN DISMAY (BELOW).

REIMER LOOKS ON (ABOVE) AFTER P.A. PARENTEAU BEAT HIM ON A BREAKAWAY LESS THAN TWO MINUTES LATER FOR A 4-2 ISLANDER LEAD (BELOW), PROMPTING A CASCADE OF BOOS FROM THE ACC CROWD, WHICH EMPTIED THE BUILDING IN HASTE.

TAVARES SIGNIFIES MOULSON’S EMPTY-NET GOAL (ABOVE) WITH 1:35 LEFT AND THE LEAFS SKATE OFF DEJECTEDLY (BELOW) AFTER THEIR SECOND HUMILIATING DEFEAT IN CONSECUTIVE NIGHTS.

TAVARES IS INTERVIEWED AFTER THE GAME IN THE ISLANDERS DRESSING ROOM (ABOVE AND BELOW) BY REPORTER DAVID BASTL OF TSN RADIO.

LEAFS DRESSING ROOM WAS CLOSED FOR MORE THAN 20 MINUTES AFTER THE GAME, AS RANDY CARLYLE AND THE PLAYERS TOOK PART IN A BULL-SESSION. THE COACH THEN DID HIS BEST TO EXPLAIN WHAT HAPPENED (ABOVE AND BELOW) DURING HIS POST-GAME GATHERING WITH REPORTERS IN THE ROGERS MEDIA CENTRE.

Email: howardlberger@gmail.com

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