TORONTO (Apr. 20) — As a sign of hope for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it would be nice to suggest there’s an oddity in their opening playoff round against Boston. But, it simply isn’t true. The 3–1 Bruins’ lead after four games is devoid of mystery. The better team has a stranglehold on the series. Period. Almost end of story.
And, let’s quickly point out that only once in franchise history have the Maple Leafs rebounded from a 3–1 deficit in the post–season: the long–legendary comeback from an 0–3 gorge against Detroit in the 1942 National Hockey League final. That’s it. One measly occasion in 92 years since the Toronto St. Pats became the Toronto Maple Leafs. A second–such miracle in the coming days would turn this city inside out. But, keep your money in your wallet. And, save your prayers for something truly important.
If ever an opportunity existed for the Leafs to generate a bit of confusion in this series, it was during the start of Thursday night’s match at the Air Canada Centre; moments after the rather stunning revelation that Patrice Bergeron of the Bruins would miss the game with an apparent rib injury. Better news for the home side would have been difficult to stumble upon. Instead, Torey Krug put Boston in front just 28 seconds after the opening face off, obliterating what should have been enormous momentum for the Blue and White. Tomas Plekanec squared the match later in the period, but the visitors took command once Brad Marchand converted David Pastrnak’s feed for the eventual–winning goal at 16:55 of the middle frame. Boston performed flawlessly in the third period — controlling the boards and clearing the defensive zone before Toronto could mount an attack. It was, as they say, a nearly–perfect road show by the Beantowners.
TIME RUNS OUT ON THE MAPLE LEAFS THURSDAY NIGHT AT THE AIR CANADA CENTRE. CBC/ROGERS
And, it continued a rather familiar trend in the opening round of this year’s Stanley Cup tournament. The lower–ranked team has lost the first two games on the road in the Toronto–Boston; New Jersey–Tampa Bay; Nashville–Colorado and Winnipeg–Minnesota series, only to win a desperate Game 3 at home with the higher–ranked team letting up just a tad (even in professional sport, it’s difficult to scam human nature). Game 4 in each series has offset the brief turnaround in favor of the more–balanced, playoff–worthy club.
Which the Bruins most–certainly are in this Stanley Cup round.
Only the Washington–Columbus series has been enigmatic… and what else would we expect from the kooky Capitals, who dropped the opening two matches at home and won the next two at Nationwide Arena? The Blue Jackets now have road–ice advantage in a best–of–three to determine the winner. Sadly for the Leafs and their fans, the Cinderella nature of last year’s opening round against Washington — a playoff–record–tying five of six games went to overtime; Toronto, qualifying for the post–season in a full 82–game schedule for the first time in the salary–cap era, nearly upset the Presidents’ Trophy recipient — is not evident this spring. Such a tale could still be woven by the Leafs prevailing at Boston on Saturday; then at home on Monday to set up a Game 7 showdown at the TD Garden next Wednesday night. Stranger things have happened in hockey (witness the astonishing, bewildering, unimaginable Vegas Golden Knights), but there is virtually no indication the Maple Leafs will nudge the Bruins anywhere close to the brink in this Cup clash.
It was pointedly suggested here prior to the series that Boston would defeat Toronto only if its playoff–hardened veterans (Marchand, Bergeron, Zdeno Chara) could thwart the Leafs’ young, skilled forwards. Given that Auston Matthews has been a factor in roughly two of 12 periods thus far, the Bruins have succeeded. It’s all part of the learning curve for the Big 3 (Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander).
Better days are likely in the offing. But, not this week.