By HOWARD BERGER
TORONTO (Mar. 16) — It has been quite awhile since the Maple Leafs endured a clean sweep on a three–game journey to Calgary, Vancouver and Edmonton — which will be the club’s fate tonight should it lose in regulation time to the Oilers at Rexall Place (9:30 EDT, Sporstnet ).
The last–such blight occurred more than 28 years ago — Feb. 18–22, 1987 — when Leafs were trounced 9–2 in Edmonton and 7–2 in Calgary before losing a closer game, 3–2, in Vancouver. Gerry McNamara was general manager of the 1986–87 Leafs and John Brophy coached the club. It finished 32–42–6 for 70 points — good enough in the 16–team NHL to make the playoffs. After upsetting St. Louis in the first round, Leafs bolted to a 3–1 lead against Detroit and nearly qualified for the Stanley Cup semifinals. But, the Wings rebounded to win three in a row.
AFTER A 4–1 LOSS AT VANCOUVER ON SATURDAY (ABOVE), THE MAPLE LEAFS CAN BE SWEPT OUT OF WESTERN CANADA LATER TONIGHT. JEFF VINNICK GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
More recently (Oct. 17–21, 1991), Leafs were cleanly swept on a trip to western Canada, but the stops were Calgary, Winnipeg and Vancouver.
Toronto lost at Edmonton, Vancouver and Calgary — Jan. 3–7, 1997 — but earned a point by bowing in overtime at the Saddledome.
In 2009–10, the Maple Leafs were beaten in regulation time in all three cities (by identical 3–1 scores), but not on the same trip. They lost at Vancouver — Oct. 24, 2009 — at the start of a five–game journey that continued to Anaheim, Dallas, Buffalo and Montreal. Then came defeats at Edmonton (Dec. 30, 2009) and Calgary (Jan. 2, 2010).
Not since Mar. 6–9, 2000, when coached by the late Pat Quinn, have the Maple Leafs won all three games of a western–Canada trip: 6–5 in overtime at Vancouver; 2–0 at Edmonton and 6–2 at Calgary.
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Speaking of Quinn, there will be a mix of tears and laughter when hockey people raise a glass in memory of the big Irishman tomorrow — the first St. Patrick’s Day since Quinn’s death on Nov. 24.
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Under no circumstance will Cam Talbot win the Hart Trophy this season as the National Hockey League’s “most valuable player to his team.”
But, that criterion should earn him a few votes.
Talbot, the New York Rangers’ back–up goalie, was pressed into service on Feb. 4 after Henrik Lundqvist sustained a vascular injury. Lundqvist took a puck to the throat against Carolina on Jan. 31 at Madison Square Garden. Though shaken, he finished the game and then defeated Florida, 6–3, at the Garden two nights later. Subsequent examination revealed the vascular ailment and Lundqvist — generally considered the second or third–best goalie in the NHL (behind Carey Price; deadlocked with Jonathan Quick) — has not since appeared in uniform. The injury, for obvious reasons, figured to be a potentially crippling blow to the Rangers, occurring just about the time Lundqvist rounds into form each year. But, Talbot stepped up and has been nothing shy of a revelation.
CAM TALBOT CONTINUED HIS REMARKABLE PERFORMANCE FOR THE NEW YORK RANGERS IN SUNDAY’S VICTORY AT HOME OVER FLORIDA. REBECCA TAYLOR GETTY IMAGES/NHL.COM
In the absence of Lundqvist, Talbot has compiled a sparkling 13–2–3 record; a 2.20 goals–against average and .945 save–percentage. He was particularly brilliant on Sunday during another home–ice victory over Florida — his teammates (according to Larry Brooks of the New York Post) turning in an “unsightly performance” in which the Panthers directed 74 shot attempts at the Rangers net in the final 40 minutes.
Thanks to Talbot, New York sits atop the NHL today with 95 points — the same total as Anaheim but in three fewer games. Rangers lead the Metropolitan Division by five points over the New York Islanders, also in three fewer games. As such, it is difficult to imagine a player other than Talbot being more “valuable to his team” during the past six weeks.
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The Maple Leafs have been an embarrassment since mid–December but the club’s in–house television network offered a reminder that utter humiliation can end in triumph. As part of a “50 Memorable Moments” package, Leafs-TV recalled the remarkable night of Jan. 18, 1964, when the last–place Boston Bruins came to town and rolled to an 11–0 victory.
The astonishing defeat occurred with Toronto in the midst of its three consecutive Stanley Cups (1962–63–64) under Punch Imlach and has been part of Leafs lore for more than half–a–century. I wasn’t yet five years old and do not remember the game. But, those who can remember won’t forget how they felt just after 8:30 p.m. on that Saturday when Hockey Night In Canada went to air in the final minute of the first period — Bill Hewitt informing stunned viewers that Boston held a 6–0 lead.
HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA TV IMAGES FROM SATURDAY, JAN. 18, 1964.
“It was my first game in the NHL — I had been called up during the afternoon from the [junior] Toronto Marlboros,” ex–Leaf Peter Stemkowski told me several years ago. “So, yes, I’ll probably have a tough time shaking the memory. What a way to start your career.”
Half–a–decade would pass before the “Big, Bad Bruins” of the late–60’s emerged as a hockey power, led by Bobby Orr and Phil Esposito. The 1963–64 Bruins finished dead–last in the six–team NHL with an 18–40–12 record for 48 points — 30 fewer than third–place Toronto. But, they manhandled the Leafs and goalie Don Simmons on that silly Saturday at the Gardens. Toronto would knock off Detroit in seven games to win the 1964 NHL championship. The scoring summary from Jan. 18, 1964:
HOCKEY CARDS — 1965 to 1969
On the weekend, I dove into my collection vault and pulled out the binder with full hockey card sets from 1965–66 to 1968–69.
Thought I’d share some with you today:
LOTS OF FAMILIAR NAMES ON THE 1965–66 MAPLE LEAFS.
1965–66 TOPPS HOCKEY CARD CHECKLIST AND PHIL ESPOSITO’S ROOKIE CARD (“R” STICKER — FOR ROOKIE — IS ON THE OUTSIDE OF PLASTIC SHEET, NOT ON THE CARD ITSELF).
THE 1966–67 LEAFS (ABOVE) WOULD WIN A SURPRISE STANLEY CUP.
BOSTON BRUINS 1966–67 PAGE, FEATURING BOBBY ORR’S ROOKIE CARD.
AMONG THE MOST SOUGHT–AFTER HOCKEY CARDS: TOPPS BOBBY ORR, 1966–67.
FROM THE 1967–68 TOPPS HOCKEY CARD SET (ABOVE AND BELOW).
PHIL ESPOSITO’S FIRST CARD (ABOVE) AS A MEMBER OF THE BRUINS.
FIRST TEAM NHL ALL STARS (ABOVE) FROM THE TOPPS 1967–68 SET.
EIGHTEEN-YEAR-OLD BOBBY ORR HAD DISTINGUISHED COMPANY ON THE SECOND TEAM ALL-STAR DEFENSE PAIRING IN HIS ROOKIE NHL SEASON.
THE 1968–69 O–PEE–CHEE / TOPPS SETS (ABOVE AND BELOW) WERE THE FIRST TO FEATURE THE SIX EXPANSION TEAMS FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR — CALIFORNIA, LOS ANGELES, MINNESOTA, PHILADELPHIA, PITTSBURGH AND ST. LOUIS. INCLUDED WERE PLAYERS THAT WERE TRADED — THUS THE DETROIT LOGO ON BOB BAUN’S CALIFORNIA SEALS CARD (TOP–LEFT) AND THE RED WINGS LOGO ON THE FRANK MAHOVLICH LEAFS CARD (BOTTOM–RIGHT).
FOUR MORE LEAFS FROM THE 1968–69 O–PEE–CHEE CARD SET.
BOBBY ORR’S THIRD NHL CARD (TOP), FROM THE 1968–69 O–PEE–CHEE COLLECTION, FEATURED THE SAME PHOTO FROM THE PREVIOUS YEAR’S SET.
NHL ALL STARS AND TROPHY WINNERS FROM 1967–68 IN THE ’68–69 O–PEE–CHEE SET.
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