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.
As usual Howard, your analysis rings true. Any team beating another team 3 games in a row is is tougher than putting a piece of IKEA furniture together. My last intimate involvement with the Leafs was working for Foster Hewitt back in ‘67. Since then few real Leaf stars. I believe individual trophies awarded to the Leafs over that time consist of last year’s deserved recognition of Mathews for the Calder Award and thee were a couple of Dave Keon’s Lady Byng awards?? How about a high scoring Leaf. Not since Geordie Drillon in the 1930’s. Yet an expansion team in Pittsburgh has won the Norris 5 times since 1990. Teams in cities with no hockey heritage or fan base like Tampa, Anaheim, Carolina continually show up Toronto’s Cup strategy. Will Las Vegas be next. Babcock was to be the saviour. Hired at $50 million at a time when the Leafs’ biggest problem was not their coach. $50 million later, Babcock has coached 3 playoff wins. The expansion Las Vegas Golden Nights just won 4 in the past ten days. Too many so called genius Senior Management types with too much continuous and heavy pressure for 20 and 21 year olds to lead the team to a Cup. Remember how the Habs broke in players like Lefleur. The Media and Fans are guilty as well. In the first year of the amazing Austin Mathews journey with the Leafs, Sportsnet commentators were calling for him to be named Captain. Unfair, unfair to Mr. Mathews. And does every publicity photo or video always have to feature Auston Mathews? UThe risk is they will destroy him the way they did with a very talented young defnseman named Luke. Remember?? Tell me we’re there really accomplished Hockey analysts who actually thought the Leafs could win the Cup this year? Those kind of extreme expectations weigh heavily on a team of young kids. Maybe the Leafs can win 3 games in a row from the Bruins but I’ll keep my hard earned money elsewhere for this year.