By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Nov. 13) – When the puck drops just after 7:30 tonight at Xcel Energy Center between the Maple Leafs and Minnesota Wild, I seriously doubt Toronto winger Joffrey Lupul will be agonizing over the events of six months ago.
“That hockey game will haunt me until the day I die,” Lupul Tweeted after the Causeway St. Cataclysm on May 13, 2013.
Yes, Leaf fans, one-half year has passed since the club’s most gut-wrenching playoff defeat in nearly two decades. Coughing up a 4-1, third-period lead at Boston in Game 7 of the opening round – and then losing in overtime on a goal by Patrice Bergeron – tested the resolve of every hockey fan in this city. Even the men wearing blue and white were inconsolable, as evidenced by Lupul’s plaintive wail on Twitter.
THE FATEFUL MOMENT, SIX MONTHS AGO TONIGHT, AT TD GARDEN.
Time, however, is a powerful healing agent and, truth be known, the unprecedented comeback by the Bruins six months ago still ranks second among Leaf playoff losses in recent memory. Try and recall, for a moment, your demeanor after Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings won Game 7 of the Campbell Conference final at Maple Leaf Gardens on May 29, 1993 – the latest calendar date in which Leafs have ever played a hockey game. With a pair of fluky goals in the final three minutes. Messing up a Toronto-Montreal clash for the Stanley Cup.
Even if that game is something you’ve only read about – or watched, through the years, on video – you can imagine the numbed feeling of more than 16,000 people on Carlton St., and millions of others watching across the land on Hockey Night In Canada. It wasn’t as mind-boggling a defeat as the one in Boston a half-year ago, but the stakes were higher and it was almost desensitizing that a magical playoff ride of 21 games in 42 nights had come to such an abrupt and premature conclusion.
I’m betting even Lupul can comprehend the difference.
I’ve been absent from this corner for more than a week, recovering from a dilly of a flu that postponed my trip home from Vancouver after the Leafs western road swing. Beautiful British Columbia is not the most unappealing place on Earth to be stranded, but only if healthy. When racked with aches, chills, nausea and a 101.8 fever, most of us – myself certainly included – would rather be in our own bed.
While staying at the Hampton Inn & Suites in downtown Vancouver – across from B.C. Place Stadium and Rogers Arena – I happened to make a new friend. Over the span of three rainy days, a rather portly seagull visited and re-visited the ledge outside my 15th-floor room. He (or she) was a cute, little varmint, who would crow loudly and angrily if I shut my curtains. The culinary options in my room weren’t among the most recommended for birds, though I had a vision of the years I spent watching Toronto Blue Jays play baseball at Exhibition Stadium (1977-89). Somehow, these creatures were able to comprehend exactly when the eighth and ninth innings were underway. They would circle above the first and third-base stands at the old ballpark – literally hundreds of them – and pounce on the remnants of peanuts, hot dog buns, popcorn, and whatever else spectators had deposited beneath their seats.
I also remember walking along Mission Beach in San Diego one afternoon while enjoying a Churro – a long, fried-dough pastry smothered in Cinnamon. Suddenly, I heard this loud flap to my right; felt a slight tug on my hand and watched my Churro become airborne. The seagulls in southern California are known for their chutzpah.
As such, I figured my Vancouver pal likely wasn’t fussy over food:
MY VANCOUVER LEDGE-PAL WAS A MAJOR FLIRT…
LOOKING UP AT ME WITH WANTON EXPRESSIONS ??…
FINALLY, I GAVE IN AND PASSED A MAPLE COOKIE ONTO THE LEDGE…
THEN I SURRENDERED MY REMAINING HALF-BAG OF BUGLES.
AFTER THREE DAYS OF STEADY RAIN, YOU HAD TO KNOW VANCOUVER WOULD LOOK LIKE THIS ?? ONCE I WAS FLATTENED BY A FLU AND 102-DEGREE FEVER.
LIMPING ON TO THE PLANE A DAY LATE…
CLIMBING PAST DOWNTOWN VANCOUVER, NINE MILES TO THE NORTH, ? WITH CANADA PLACE TOWER; B.C. PLACE STADIUM AND ROGERS ARENA (FAR RIGHT) VISIBLE HERE…
THE SNOWY PEAKS…
ON A MOSTLY CLEAR AFTERNOON, THE FIRST 20 MINUTES OF AN EASTBOUND FLIGHT OUT OF VANCOUVER CAN BE ABSOLUTELY BREATHTAKING…
SHORT DAY BECOMES NIGHT, AS WE FLY OVER UNIVERSITY OF GUELPH ALUMNI STADIUM (2013 HOME OF HAMILTON TIGER-CATS) ON APPROACH TO PEARSON AIRPORT.
NIGHT-TIME CAMERA FEATURE ?? EXAGGERATES THE GROUND LIGHTS AT PEARSON.
COVER OF 2013-14 TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS MEDIA GUIDE:
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