TORONTO (Apr. 22) — Let us count the ways in which events can unfold between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins in Game 7 of their opening–round playoff quarrel. As I see it, there are three possibilities: a) the Bruins win a close, competitive match and eliminate the Leafs for the third time in as many post–season clashes since 2013; b) the Leafs prevail for the third time in this series at TD Garden and finally shake the black–and–gold gorilla; c) Toronto sustains a third catastrophe in the decisive playoff encounter on Causeway Street — expectorating, at minimum, a two-goal lead lead in the final 20 minutes.
If the latter occurs, at least we’ll arrive at certitude: that there is no way a Toronto–Boston Stanley Cup round can climax without eating at the intestinal wall of Leafs Nation. As they have for more than half–a–century, fans of the Blue and White will regurgitate; ultimately recover, and brace for the next hockey holocaust. Though I’ve witnessed my share of Leaf carnage through the years — first as a hapless zealot then, for 17 seasons, a radio reporter following the team hither and yon — I have difficulty sensing more heartbreak. The law of averages, alone, implies the Maple Leafs will not disintegrate again in the third period. Then there’s the composition of this Toronto club: more refined, gifted and resilient than those that previously crumbled against the Bruins. Of course, any manner of defeat will disenchant Maple Leaf rooters, but a third debacle in as many tries may be impossible to reconcile. So, let’s nudge that potentiality to the sideline.
What, then, of the other options?
A prevailing sentiment north of the 49th is that Toronto blew its bolt when failing to close out the series at home on Sunday. This feeling is natural and ubiquitous; crossing the lines of hockey, baseball and basketball, all of which deploy the best–of–seven playoff format. Opportunity lost is difficult to swallow, for participant and observer. The vast majority therefore assumes that Toronto incurably tempted fate in Game 6 and cannot survive a fourth Cup match at the TD Garden. Such a result isn’t likely to astonish anyone.
Then there’s the constellation — inexplicable stuff that involves the alignment of stars and planets. Such as this series being handled more competently by the road team… and, the inability of either club to win consecutive games. Both of which favor the Maple Leafs in the decisive match. We mentioned the law of averages, which also stands in the visitors’ corner after five consecutive playoff defeats against Boston in the post–expansion era (1969–72–74; 2013–18). Toronto hasn’t bested the Bruins since the spring of 1959… 60 years ago. And, hey, I just turned 60 — in February. Which is planet–aligning enough for me.
Toronto 4, Boston 3… in overtime. John Tavares with the series winner. It’s in the stars.