TORONTO (May 13) — You remember it well… though you’d surely rather forget.
Three years. 156 weeks. 1,096 days. 26,304 hours. 1,578,240 minutes. All passed by 11:15 p.m. (Eastern) on Friday since the shattering of Leafs Nation. May 13, 2013. At the TD Garden in Boston. 100 Causeway St. (re–named Legends Way) on the front of your envelope. A 4–1 lead for the road team, with visions of Round 2 against the New York Rangers. And then… well, it’s still difficult to assimilate. In the book of unrecognized playoff disasters, it remains the largest blown advantage in the third period for any team — in any game — since Fredrick Arthur Stanley, the 16th Earl of Derby, offered his challenge trophy 123 years ago. Up three goals with 10:19 left in regulation. Down one goal — and eliminated — at 6:05 of overtime. Fifteen minutes and 46 seconds of undiluted anguish for the National Hockey League’s most tormented followers.
The name in mud? Patrice Bergeron — a monolithic Leaf–killer to this day.
So, what has transpired since Game 7 of the 2013 Toronto–Boston Eastern quarterfinal — designated either the greatest comeback or most inelegant collapse in playoff history (I choose the former, given how the Bruins were so–widely favored in the best–of–seven series)? Well, the Leafs have made wonderful progress while exponentially failing. Only in the world of professional sport would that count as logic. What followed the Causeway St. Calamity were finishes of 23rd, 27th and 30th place in the overall NHL standings. Two coaches were fired, and one later hired with the most lucrative contract ever granted to men who stand behind hockey benches. In came a new president and an old general manager. Out went the linchpins of the Brian Burke regime. After teetering amid self–made sabotage in March of this year, the Leafs barely plopped into the NHL basement and were rewarded, by fate, for their calculated clumsiness.
Six weekends from now, down the Queen Elizabeth Way, Auston Matthews will en–robe in the newly–designed and much–secretive armor of the Blue–and–White, thus becoming the potentially–first franchise center drafted since Jim Gregory called Darryl Sittler’s name in 1970. Oh, the glory of enduring ineptitude.
Other stuff has happened — here in town and abroad; some happy, some sad — over the past 36 months.
A pictorial review:
STANLEY CUP PICKS
I bounced back from a .500 opening round (4–4) and was a perfect 4–0 with my Conference semifinal predictions. I’ve stuck with Pittsburgh as my East Stanley Cup representative since before the regular season… and, as I wrote in my last blog, I believe St. Louis will win its first NHL championship this spring.
EASTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
WESTERN CONFERENCE FINAL
For fun, once again, I’ve gone back into my collection of THE HOCKEY NEWS to find summaries from the first–ever meetings of the 2016 Conference finalists:
SATURDAY, OCT. 12, 1991 — San Jose at St. Louis
SUNDAY, NOV. 1, 1992 — Pittsburgh at Tampa Bay