Lou’s Date With The Devil

TORONTO (Apr. 8) — Neither on his death–bed nor at gunpoint would Lou Lamoriello admit what is now certain — that he’d be content with a regulation–time loss against his former club in Newark on Saturday.

One can only imagine the mixed emotion of the Toronto Maple Leafs general manager on Thursday night. In a curious display of mutual self–destruction, the Leafs scored a 4–3 overtime victory against the Flyers, thereby pulling even once again with idle Edmonton for 29th place in the National Hockey League standings. A regulation–time defeat at the Wells Fargo Center would have consigned the Leafs to the NHL basement for the first time in 31 years. And, with it, the best percentage–odds of winning the draft lottery on Apr. 30, as well as a guaranteed top–four selection. The Flyers clawed back from a 3–1 deficit in the third period but remain outside the Eastern Conference playoff race with 92 points, one fewer than Boston.

It was an equally–dreadful result for the orange–and–black.

You could practically hear the most ardent of Maple Leaf fans begging the club not to shoot toward the Philadelphia goal with a 4–on–3 powerplay in overtime. But, defenseman Jake Gardiner could barely do much else while in the high slot — and with teammate Brooks Laich running interference in front of the net. Gardiner’s slapshot from 45 feet eluded goalie Steve Mason at 2:51 of the extra period, touching off pandemonium in Edmonton. Now, the Oilers can again finish in their customary spot beneath all others in the NHL. It will require the Leafs gaining at least a point at New Jersey on Saturday, followed by an Edmonton no–show in Vancouver. Had Gardiner closed his eyes and shot wide of Mason, the Leafs may have needed two points in Lamoriello’s lone return to the Prudential Center. Now, all bets are off.

FSCN1880edited-X-BTHE OVERTME GOAL THURSDAY NIGHT THAT MAY HAVE KILLED THE LEAFS AND FLYERS. SPORTSNET

To quickly recap: Toronto and Edmonton each have 69 points and one game to play. If the clubs are still deadlocked after Saturday, the Leafs end up 30th based on the first tie–breaker — ROW’s (regulation or overtime wins). Edmonton leads that category, 27–23. Toronto has not finished in the NHL basement since the 1984–85 season (with 48 points). There was no draft lottery then; the last–place team automatically received No. 1 pick. The Maple Leafs chose defenseman Wendel Clark (Saskatoon WHL), who promptly developed into an abrasive, high–scoring winger in the NHL (34 and 37 goals in his first two seasons).

Lamoriello goes back to New Jersey for the first time as GM of the Leafs. He managed the Devils for 28 years (beginning in 1987) — guiding the club to three Stanley Cup championships (1995–2000–2003).

The Leafs are now 29–41–11, having improved by one point over last season (30–44–8 for 68 points).

40th HOME OPENER FOR BLUE JAYS

Toronto and Boston hook up at Rogers Centre on Friday night to begin the 40th season of Major League Baseball in our city. It was on Apr. 7, 1977 (39 years ago yesterday) that the Blue Jays defeated the Chicago White Sox at old Exhibition Stadium in their first–ever game. Recalled legendarily for the weather (steady snowfall; wind and bitter cold), it remains among the most prominent events in Toronto sports history.

I had the privilege, at age 18, of freezing my butt off that day and have never been ashamed to admit that I bailed after five innings. It’s the most uncomfortable I’ve ever been at a sporting event and — hey — there was a hockey game to attend at night. The Maple Leafs and Pittsburgh Penguins faced off in Game 2 of a best–of–three preliminary playoff round at Maple Leaf Gardens. No one would have predicted the day’s outcome… a baseball win and a hockey loss (the Leafs were drubbed, 6–3). But, remember, this is Toronto.

I dug into my collection and found the program and ticket–stub from the Blue Jays first game. Here are some of the program contents, including ads for cigarettes (now banned) and typewriters (now obsolete).

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EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

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