By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Apr. 29) – So, the dream match-up didn’t happen after all. But, it may turn out to be just the tonic the Maple Leafs need.
Perhaps the Leafs would have had an easier chore facing Montreal rather than Boston. This series will not, however, be hyped nearly as much as a quarrel with the Canadiens. And, we’ve seen the result of over-hyping in the Toronto Blue Jays dreadful start to the Major League Baseball season.
Rather than page after page romanticizing the Leafs-Canadiens playoff history – the bulk of which would have been exaggerated – we will nicely ease into the Toronto-Boston series, beginning Wednesday night at the TD Center. Oh, the obligatory Bobby Orr interview and a word or two from Phil Esposito will appear, but the tone will be much quieter. Expectation here in the Big Smoke is considerably lower than it would have been for a match-up with the Canadiens and that, too, could work for the Maple Leafs.
Though Bruins will be heavily favored, they aren’t going into the playoffs with a shred of momentum, having wobbled to a 3-7-0 record in their final 10 games. Leafs were 5-4-1 over the same stretch, but their performance tailed off and they ended the schedule with a real stinker against Montreal.
So, this hardly shapes up as a collision of locomotives.
LEAFS AND BRUINS HOOK UP IN THE PLAYOFFS FOR THE FIRST TIME SINCE 1974 – THE EASTERN CONFERENCE QUARTERFINAL BEGINNING WEDNESDAY NIGHT IN BOSTON.
Bruins have pretty much man-handled the Leafs for two seasons now, rolling up an 8-1-1 mark in 10 games. Leafs finally busted a seven-game losing streak when they scratched out a 3-2 home-ice victory on Mar. 23 and followed with a 3-2 shoot-out loss in Beantown two nights later. Gathering three out of four points from their division nemesis brought some cheer to Leaf Land, though the big picture over two seasons is still rather ghastly. Boston has out-played the Leafs at both ends of the ice in virtually every period.
One wildcard could be Bruins horrid powerplay against Leafs superb penalty killing, though regular season trends don’t always carry over to the playoffs.
This series will feature the Bruins muscle against the Leafs speed. Whichever prevails will determine the winner, providing there are no surprises in goal. Tuukka Rask and James Reimer will be at opposite ends of the rink.
Their statistics from the regular season:
RASK: 19-9-5 / 1.94 GAA / .930 SAVE PCTG.
REIMER: 19-8-5 / 2.46 GAA / .924 SAVE PCTG.
In other words, fairly equal.
My gut feeling: Bruins will struggle to a six-game triumph over the Leafs and then get on a big-time roll in the Stanley Cup tournament.
OTHER FIRST-ROUND PREDICTIONS:
PITTSBURGH OVER NEW YORK ISLANDERS IN 7.
WASHINGTON OVER NEW YORK RANGERS IN 5.
OTTAWA OVER MONTREAL IN 6.
CHICAGO OVER MINNESOTA IN 5.
ANAHEIM OVER DETROIT IN 7.
ST. LOUIS OVER LOS ANGELES IN 6.
SAN JOSE OVER VANCOUVER IN 6.
STANLEY CUP PICK:
CHICAGO OVER BOSTON IN 6.
FROM MY COLLECTION:
TORONTO-BOSTON JERSEY DESIGNS THROUGH THE YEARS
CUJO, CUP AND LANNY ON THIS DATE…
CURTIS JOSEPH (ABOVE) WAS BORN 46 YEARS AGO TONIGHT – APR. 29, 1967…
… AS TERRY SAWCHUK (ABOVE) AND THE MAPLE LEAFS WERE PLAYING GAME 5 OF THE STANLEY CUP FINAL AT MONTREAL FORUM – LEAFS GETTING GOALS FROM JIM PAPPIN, BRIAN CONACHER, MARCEL PRONOVOST AND DAVE KEON TO BEAT THE CANADIENS 4-1 AND TAKE A 3-2 LEAD IN THE BEST-OF-SEVEN SERIES.
ON CUJO’S 11th BIRTHDAY (35 YEARS AGO TONIGHT – APR. 29, 1978), LANNY McDONALD SCORED ONE OF THE MOST MEMORABLE PLAYOFF GOALS IN THE POST-1967 ERA FOR THE LEAFS – IN OVERTIME OF GAME 7 AT NASSAU COLISEUM TO ELIMINATE NEW YORK ISLANDERS FROM THE STANLEY CUP QUARTERFINALS.
BLUE JAYS IN A WORLD OF HURT
AS MENTIONED EARLIER, TOO MUCH HYPE IS DIFFICULT TO MANAGE AND THE BLUE JAYS WERE PROMOTED TO DEATH BY PARENT COMPANY ROGERS COMMUNICATIONS. A HORRID 9-17 RECORD AFTER 26 GAMES, OR ROUGHLY ONE-SIXTH OF THE SCHEDULE, WAS HARDLY THE PLAN GOING INTO THE 2013 MAJOR LEAGUE SEASON AND THE FACT THE BLUE JAYS ARE FULL VALUE FOR THEIR LAST-PLACE STANDING IN THE AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST HAS TO BE A MAJOR CONCERN. GIVEN EXPECTATION, JOBS COULD BE ON THE LINE RATHER SHORTLY IF THERE ISN’T A DRAMATIC IMPROVEMENT.
RECORD AFTER 26 GAMES: 9-17
TO WIN 90 GAMES: 81-55
BLUE JAYS PITCHER R.A. DICKEY DELIVERS 7th-INNING PITCH TO LYLE OVERBAY, WHO DEPOSITS BASEBALL IN THE YANKEES RIGHT/CENTER-FIELD BULLPEN, DESPITE FENCE-CLIMBING EFFORT BY COLBY RASMUS OF TORONTO. JAYS WERE BRUSHED ASIDE BY NEW YORK IN FOUR WEEKEND GAMES. SPORTSNET IMAGES
RECORD AFTER 25 GAMES: 18-7
TO WIN 90 GAMES: 72-64
AFTER BLUE JAYS WERE SWEPT IN NEW YORK, JOHN FARRELL’S BOSTON RED SOX COMPLETED A FOUR-GAME RUB-OUT OF HOUSTON ASTROS AT FENWAY PARK. ANDREW BAILEY TOSSED FINAL PITCH TO ROBBIE GROSSMAN WHO LIFTED A FLY BALL DEEP TO RIGHT FIELD THAT DANIEL NAVA DOVE FOR TO END THE GAME. BLUE JAYS ARE 9½ GAMES BACK OF BOSTON IN THE A.L. EAST – 10 BACK IN THE LOSS COLUMN. NESN IMAGES
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