Hockey Night Really Needs The Leafs

TORONTO (May 24) — Unless the Edmonton Oilers become the fifth team in Stanley Cup playoff history to rebound from a 3–0 deficit in a best–of–seven series, Rogers, Sportsnet and Hockey Night In Canada will quickly lose one of its top attractions. No disrespect to the surging Winnipeg Jets, but Connor McDavid is the best hockey player on the planet and his presence undoubtedly draws viewership from coast to coast. There isn’t a player on Winnipeg that remotely approximates McDavid for television appeal. Given that the Oilers are astonishingly near death in their opening–round clash with the Jets, tonight’s fourth game of the North Division semifinal, at Rogers Place, could be Connor’s last TV appearance* until he accepts the Hart and Art Ross Trophies in July.
* It happened. Winnipeg swept Edmonton with a triple–OT win in Game 4.

Which is not at all what the bean–counters at Rogers had in mind, last week, when the 2021 playoffs began.


WINNIPEG JETS CELEBRATE AN OVERTIME GOAL BY NIK EHLERS ON SUNDAY NIGHT IN EDMONTON THAT GAVE THE CLUB A 3–0 DEATH–GRIP ON ITS OPENING ROUND SERIES WITH THE OILERS.
DAN GREENSLADE THE CANADIAN PRESS

Of course, 20 Connor McDavids wouldn’t compensate for the biggest catastrophe to befall Rogers — losing the Maple Leafs at any point in the Cup tournament. Especially in the first round, were Montreal to pull off an enormous upset; the Leafs and Habs are deadlocked, 1–1, heading into Game 3 tonight at the Bell Centre (7 o’clock, Sportsnet). Game 4 is tomorrow night at 7:30. The Canadiens are likely the weakest of the 16 playoff qualifiers and their task seems nearly impossible in the wake of Saturday’s second match, when Auston Matthews and the Leafs — fully engaged — skated to a 5–1 rout; the final score flattering to the visitors. Unless Toronto lightens up on the gas–pedal, this series will end rather quickly. Setting up, and barring the miraculous, a Division final against Winnipeg (4–6–0 in 10 meetings with the Leafs during the 56–game regular schedule). If the Canadiens win at home tonight and lead for the second time in the playoff round, collars will tighten at Rogers headquarters. No matter the circumstance or opponent, the Leafs control TV ratings and advertising revenue. Both of which Rogers needs in its quest to pay down the 12–year, $5.2–billion contract signed with the NHL in 2013 for national rights.

As for McDavid and the Oilers, they must duplicate the accomplishment of the 1942 Maple Leafs (vs. Detroit); the 1975 New York Islanders (vs. Pittsburgh); the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers (vs. Boston) and the 2014 Los Angeles Kings (vs. San Jose) — the only clubs to come all the way back from 0–3 in a best–of–seven quarrel. Which is unfortunate for Rogers and most hockey fans in Canada, outside Winnipeg. A head–on challenge between McDavid and Matthews in Round 2 would make for gargantuan TV audiences; Matthews vs. Mark Scheifele, not so much.

Neither can the promoters at Sportsnet and Hockey Night look to a match–up between the celebrated top two picks in the 2016 National Hockey League draft; not since Patrik Laine was traded to Columbus (for Pierre–Luc Dubois) on Jan. 23. So, the loss of McDavid is a huge blow. Losing the Leafs would be incalculable for Rogers.

AN APPALLING TASTE: Fans of the Oilers can now feel nearly the way stunned Maple Leaf supporters did on the night of May 13, 2013, when Toronto famously regurgitated a 4–1, third–period lead at Boston in Game 7 of the opening playoff round. The only difference: Edmonton wasn’t officially eliminated after its collapse on Sunday.

The Oilers held their three–goal margin until 11:41 of the third period when Matthieu Perreault began the comeback. Blake Wheeler scored at 14:28 and Josh Morrisey at 14:44, tying the match. Nikolaj Ehlers won the game at 9:13 of overtime. Compare this to the Toronto collapse of more than eight years ago. Nathan Horton began the Bruins’ comeback from 4–1 down at 9:18 of the third period. Milan Lucic scored at 18:38 and Patrice Bergeron at 19:09. Bergeron won the game — and the series — beating James Reimer at 6:05 of extra time. Most would agree the Toronto circumstance was more galling than the Oilers’ blown lead on Sunday. As mentioned, it happened in an elimination game. And, the Maple Leafs held a two–goal advantage with less than 1½ minutes left in regulation. Winnipeg drew even with Edmonton via quick goals, 16 seconds apart, in the 15th minute of the third.

ANDERSEN REDUX? Will Maple Leafs fans be treated to the nerve–racking sight of Frederik Andersen in goal for the club tomorrow? During the regular season, coach Sheldon Keefe would almost always deploy both his netminders in a consecutive–night circumstance. But, the playoffs could be a different story… depending on tonight’s result. If Jack Campbell has another relatively easy game, and the Leafs prevail by a considerable margin, it’s likely Andersen will get the nod for Game 4. Such would also be the case if Montreal wins tonight… particularly were Campbell to struggle at any point. Should Toronto survive a close–fought encounter, leaning heavily on Campbell, it would be difficult for Keefe to make a change. In that example, the coach would be certain that Campbell is physically capable of starting on consecutive nights. A season–long groin issue has been managed by allowing Campbell to skip practices the day after a busy game. Andersen, of course, has been the go–to guy for the Maple Leafs in each of the past four playoff years — defeats against Washintgton, Boston (twice) and Columbus.

He has proven unreliable in clinching and decisive matches, often yielding soft, untimely goals.


WILL FREDERIK ANDERSEN GET THE CALL IN GOAL TOMORROW NIGHT AGAINST THE CANADIENS? GETTY IMAGES/NHL

NEW RADIO TOP GUN: Rogers Communications has hired Dan Toman, formerly the content director at Yahoo! Sports (in Canada) as Director of Audio Programming, a fancy title for Program Director of Sportsnet–590, my ex–employer. Toman becomes the sixth person to hold the position since CJCL AM–1430 became Canada’s first all–sports radio station on Sep. 4, 1992. He succeeds John Rea, Bob Mackowycz, Nelson Millman, Don Kollins and Dave Cadeau. I worked for the first four; it was Kollins that ended my 23–year term in radio nearly a decade ago, on June 1, 2011. Toman comes to Rogers with a good name. He’ll work closely with Sportsnet’s top exec, Greg Sansone, also a radio colleague of mine; better known for his years co–hosting at night with Martine Gaillard on The Score. Stability in the crucial morning–drive slot eluded Sportsnet–590 under Kollins and Cadeau.

THE LAST CUP PARADE
Toronto — May 5, 1967

I stumbled across these rare and remarkable photos of the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Stanley Cup parade in 1967. From the Facebook page Vintage Toronto. Courtesy of a man named Dan Ward, who snapped the slide–images. It was three days after the Leafs had upset the Montreal Canadiens in Game 6 at Maple Leaf Gardens, winning the last NHL championship of the six–team era. And, of course, the club’s most recent. A large crowd — though minuscule by today’s standard — gathered near the intersection of Bay and Queen St., then moved to Nathan Philips Square at the “new” Toronto City Hall, just two years old at the time. This is truly an historic collection.


PARADE–WATCHERS GATHER NEAR THE INTERSECTION OF BAY AND QUEEN ST., KITTY CORNER TO TORONTO CITY HALL.


THE STANLEY CUP ARRIVES ON THE LAP OF LEAFS CAPTAIN GEORGE ARMSTRONG, RIDING IN A CAR WITH MAPLE LEAF GARDENS DIRECTORS HAROLD BALLARD (LEFT) AND STAFFORD SMYTHE.

 
HEROES (ABOVE AND BELOW) OF THE MAPLE LEAFS LAST STANLEY CUP TRIUMPH.

 

STILL THE MOST–BELOVED FIGURE IN LEAFS HISTORY, JOHNNY BOWER (ABOVE), THEN 42, SHARED THE GOALTENDING CHORES WITH TERRY SAWCHUK. BOWER BLANKED THE HABS, 3–0, AT THE MONTREAL FORUM IN GAME 2 OF THE FINAL, AVENGING AN UGLY, 6–2, LOSS IN THE OPENER, WITH SAWCHUK BETWEEN THE PIPES. JOHNNY DIED ON DEC. 26, 2017.

 
METRO TORONTO POLICE KEPT WATCH OF THE PARADE ON HORSEBACK AND FOOT.


RON ELLIS, THE RIGHT–WINGER IN HIS THIRD NHL SEASON, SCORED THE ALL–IMPORTANT FIRST GOAL OF GAME 6, BEATING GUMP WORSLEY OF THE CANADIENS AT 6:25 OF THE SECOND PERIOD.

THE “CROWD” AT NATHAN PHILIPS SQUARE. NOT QUITE REMINISCIENT OF THAT WHICH JAMMED EVERY INCH OF THE PROPERTY AFTER THE TORONTO RAPTORS WON THE 2019 NBA TITLE.


NO CHANCE THE LEAFS COULD HAVE UPSET CHICAGO AND MONTREAL IN THE SPRING OF 1967 WITHOUT THIS FELLOW.

EMAIL: HOWARDLBERGER@GMAIL.COM

5 comments on “Hockey Night Really Needs The Leafs

  1. Did I not notice it this season, or is Campbell coming out of the net to play the puck new? I like his aggression and IMO both his play and confidence have increased.

    Edmonton collapse was the best thing that happened to Toronto. I’m sure they discussed keeping the foot on the gas pedal prior to the game tonight.

    I’m hoping that Andersen is never seen in the Leaf’s net again.

  2. Howard, I fully respect and appreciate what you are saying about this Series….STOP saying this is gonna be a relatively easy series!!! It’s like mentioning a shutout in the last 5 mins or a no hitter in the last few innings. Don’t Jinx it Howard!

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