TORONTO (Apr. 18) — During Coach’s Corner in the first intermission of Wednesday night’s game, Don Cherry called Frederik Andersen “the best goalie in the world right now.” To support his opinion, Cherry showed the highlight of a difficult save that would have provided Boston a 3–0 lead in the opening period.
“If that goes in, it’s game over,” bellowed Donald S.
In my humble assessment, if the “best goalie in the world” is beaten five times on home ice in a pivotal Stanley Cup match, it’s “game over” anyway. I can also discern — though never comprehend — the sacrilege in these parts of indicting Andersen. His performance is gauged sequentially; hardly ever on a per–game basis. Which is fine during the regular season. But, the playoffs are an entirely different matter. With Tampa Bay shockingly (and rudely) cast to the sideline 24 hours prior, the Leafs had a golden opportunity on Wednesday to move within one victory of a Toronto–Columbus second–round series. The tone, however, was set before half the fans arrived in their seats. Boston led 2–0 after only 6:38 had elapsed. No “best goalie in the world” allows that to happen in such a mammoth playoff circumstance. The truly great stoppers find a way to thwart the opposition in the early moments and keep the home building abuzz. You could have heard a feather fluttering through Scotiabank Arena after Brad Marchand’s goal put the visitors up by a pair.
So, yeah, the big Dane wears this defeat. Whether you like it or not. As well as he generally performed for the Blue and White in the first three games of the series — and weren’t the cheerleaders in the mainstream Toronto media all a–gush? — Andersen again let the club down at a critical juncture. As he did in Game 4 of the Washington series two years ago (a 5–4 loss on home ice). And, rather thoroughly, in the third period of Game 7 last spring against the Bruins. Perhaps you think it’s unfair to single out Andersen for Wednesday night’s costly defeat; the Leafs were mistake–prone and lousy on the penalty–kill. But, goalies are always singled out, aren’t they? Just like quarterbacks in football and starting pitchers in baseball. And, though it borders on a cliche, a team’s “best” penalty killer has to be the guy standing between the pipes. That player cannot allow two goals in the first 6½ minutes; then another just 2:09 after his teammates had battled back to knot the score. Andersen did both on Wednesday. The circumstance and prior big saves are immaterial.
Somehow, the puck needs to be stopped. Period. End of story.
If big Fred is the “best goalie” on the planet right now, what should we make of Sergei Bobrovsky, who slammed the door on T–Bay in the third period Tuesday night when the National Hockey League’s runaway best team in the regular season needed but a single goal to draw even? Columbus added three empty–net markers to win, 7–2, but the game was 3–2 for most of the final 20 minutes. With Bobrovsky the sole reason. How might Marc–Andre Fleury react to such a claim, with a part in three Stanley Cup wins (at Pittsburgh); a Cup final appearance last year with an expansion team, and three consecutive wins for Vegas over San Jose this spring after the Sharks had taken a 1–0 series lead? The Golden Knights held a 2–1 series edge — ala the Leafs over Boston — and Fleury recorded a 5–0 shutout, Tuesday night, at T–Mobile Arena. From my perspective, that’s how the great goalies respond to urgent playoff situations. Not by allowing a five–spot.
DAVID PASTRNAK OF BOSTON BEATS FREDERK ANDERSEN ON WEDNESDAY NIGHT. JOHN E. SOKOLOWSKI USA TODAY SPORTS
Otherwise, the Leafs’ franchise playoff record is still intact. Never has the club prevailed twice at home after splitting the first two games on the road in a best–of–seven series. Clearly the Bruins deserve credit for rebounding imperatively yet again. A lesser team may have recoiled in the rabid environment to begin Wednesday’s match; the SBA fanatics could smell an elimination game on Friday at TD Garden. But, only for 6½ minutes. Now, that first elimination event will occur back here in town on Sunday. If Andersen performs as he did during Game 5 last year in Boston — when he brilliantly stared down the Bruins in the third period, thwarting waves of attack — the Leafs could match my pre–series forecast of a six–game triumph. Anything less and the Bruins will return Sunday looking to dismiss the Maple Leafs for the third time since 2013.
20 YEARS AGO TODAY
Madison Square Garden, New York
Twenty years ago this morning — Sunday, April 18, 1999 — I flew from Montreal (where the Maple Leafs had played the previous night) to New York to cover the final game of Wayne Gretzky’s brilliant career. Gretzky had confirmed his decision to retire in a news conference two days earlier, prompting a tidal wave of media requests for the Rangers season finale – an afternoon game against Pittsburgh at Madison Square Garden. Hotel rooms in Manhattan were at a premium (as per usual), so I stayed at the LaGuardia Airport Marriott. This enabled me to drive into the city with Bill McCreary, the veteran referee chosen to handle Gretzky’s last game. It stands among the most memorable days of my 23–year career as a radio reporter at The FAN–590. I have therefore kept the Rangers’ media kit in a safe place… with my press box credential (bottom–left) and other items.
Also, the next–day newspapers from my collection:
COVER OF THE PROGRAM (TOP–LEFT) FROM GRETZKY’S FINAL GAME AND A CARDBOARD INSERT (RIGHT) — ONE OF ONLY 5,000 THAT WERE PRINTED THAT DAY AT MADISON SQUARE GARDEN.
THE MONDAY NEW YORK PAGES
Far too many people coddle their favourite Leaf players, they become above and beyond reproach. This goes for Freddie and especially Nylander. Your article couldn’t be more accurate and I am blue in the face arguing with idiots who keep saying “Freddie couldn’t have stopped those shots last night”. Really? Wel then I guess the Leafs are in real trouble.
I will admit I got downright depressed watching that last game. The Bruins seem to have a knack for scoring first and they controlled possession and tempo in the offensive zone for longer than I was comfortable watching. It’s inevitable that the puck is going to go in when you let the other team play on your side of the rink. Anderson played OK but I agree he’s going to have to step it up and keep that puck out of the net. Toronto looked great when they played the fast, quick game but to be brutally honest there were times most Toronto players looked like they were all hung over – Particularly Willie Nylander. And the lack of physicality on Toronto is hurting them as they don’t want to go out and hit people and they are acting like don’t want to get hit. (Although I am enjoying watching Moore Hit Chara. I recall when Darcy Tucker took out the Goliath whey back when) You hinted that the honeymoon period is over with Babcock – It’s time to find out if he can figure out how to coach his way out of this dilemma.
I enjoy reading your articles Howard but I fail to see how you can justify laying the blame for the Leafs woes at the feet of Freddie. A goalie is only as good as the defencemen in front of him and their ability to limit scoring chances.
The play of Zaitsev in particular, who was directly responsible in providing the Bruins excellent scoring chances until he was ultimately benched in the 2nd period and Muzzin who was also guilty of the same, directly led to at least 2 of the goals on in-alone chances and other scoring chances as well that Freddie stopped.
Isn’t it time to recognize the fact that the Bruins and Capitals have some lethal shooters who also possess a lot more playoff experience than the Leafs currently have and are far more dangerous because of it?
And the same can be said for the defenders. Let’s face it, the Leafs defence is not very good as a whole and a goalie is only as good as the men playing in front of him unless that goalie is playing unconscious like we’ve recently witnessed with Bobrovsky and Grubauer. To suggest any goalie is capable of that standard on a sustainable basis is nothing but pure folly. Goaltending is ALWAYS a deciding factor in championship runs but to blame Freddie for not attaining a god-like performance is like saying Crosby was responsible for not scoring enough to beat the Islanders who clearly played the better team game.
Too general a commentary, Ron. Not blaming Andersen for Leaf woes. Just for a non-clutch performance in Game 4. Toronto scoring four goals should be enough to win any playoff game.
I agree with Ron. Sorry, you are off-side Howard. Hard to blame the goalie…a couple of one-timers on the pp, Marner not staying with Pasta, Zaitsev gets a puck to the hand and he quits playing on the Marchand goal. The team in front of him is terrible defensively. We’ve seen it all season. I’m surprised they’ve made it this far.
As usual you nailed it Howard. Andersen is a good goalie but he has sub par performances when the pressure is on. Hopefully he’ll turn the page this time.
It’s a shame that Gretzky was denied the chance (by Steve Stavro I think) to play his final contract as a Maple Leaf. It would have been nice for us fans, and financially a drop in the bucket for MLSE.
Stavro once told me on a flight that Gretzky’s agent asked for equity in the Leafs. And that’s what scuttled the deal.