TORONTO (Oct. 28) — There was method to the madness when the Toronto Maple Leafs poured off their bench as if they’d won the Stanley Cup on Wednesday night in Chicago. Yes, the players were genuinely happy to end a four–game losing streak and win a match they ultimately deserved — William Nylander scoring on a breakaway in overtime for a comeback, 3–2 triumph at the United Center. But, the upcoming schedule, without a doubt, was foremost on their minds, especially while trailing the horrendous Blackhawks, 2–0, in the first intermission.
You see, scuffling on the road is bad enough. While getting throttled in Pittsburgh and Carolina earlier in the week, the players recognized they were nudging Sheldon Keefe into the same tar–pit as Mike Babcock nearly two years ago. This is a club, though top–end talented, that chooses to compete sporadically. That will not change. Away from home, however, the white noise is a distant whir; easily escapable. On native soil, in the tumultuous cauldron that is Stanley Cup–starved Toronto, it’s an entirely different matter. Returning from Chicago on a charter jet, the Maple Leafs knew they’d be careening into hockey hell: 13 consecutive days and nights in the vortex of controversy and contempt. Which includes a five–game homestand: vs. Detroit (Saturday night); Vegas (Nov. 2); Tampa Bay (Nov. 4); Boston (Nov. 6) and Los Angeles (Nov. 8). The longest uninterrupted sequence on home turf through the entire 2021–22 schedule. Not until Nov. 9 (a week from Tuesday), could the players flee the crucible, departing for their next road encounter, at Philadelphia. Losing a fifth consecutive match, in the Windy City, would have deposited the club squarely into an inferno. That’s why the overtime escape generated such demonstrative relief.
WILLIAM NYLANDER LOOKS FIVE–HOLE ON KEVIN LANKINEN DURING OVERTIME WEDNESDAY NIGHT. HE WOULD SCORE THE WINNING GOAL FOR THE MAPLE LEAFS. DAVID BANKS USA TODAY SPORTS
It was, to be clear, a stay of execution. This team begs for fundamental change — as validated against Montreal in the playoffs last spring… and reaffirmed by the conventional apathy early this season. Under no circumstance will the Maple Leafs, as currently modeled, pose a Stanley Cup threat. So, removing the heat for a few days with an arduous triumph over, perhaps, the worst team in the National Hockey League was a Pyrrhic victory. We should anticipate that the Leafs will, at some point, perform lethargically on the impending homestand, thereby re–energizing the cauldron. It’s in the club’s DNA. Management chose to ignore the inevitable throughout the summer; to take the path of least resistance. Somewhere down the line — probably sooner than later — it will prove costly.
DONE PROPERLY AND EXQUISITELY… As many of you know, I’ve been out of the mainstream media since The FAN–590 let me go in June 2011. But, I clearly remember what it’s like to be in the public conscience every day. And, rarely have I been as proud of my former industry as during the revelation of the Chicago Blackhawks’ sexual–abuse scandal. It’s an horrific story and one we wish never happened. Yet, the administration and treatment of the events from 2010 has been thoroughly commendable. Beginning with TSN reporter–extraordinaire Rick Westhead, who unveiled so much of the allegations and, unsurprisingly, prompted Kyle Beach to trust him with Wednesday’s groundbreaking interview… to everyone on TV, radio and in print that has worked so professionally on the subject the past few days. Sportsnet (Caroline Cameron, Jennifer Botterill, Anthony Stewart) did an outstanding job during the Leafs–Chicago telecast, eliciting comments from Sheldon Kennedy, who, sadly, knows precisely what Beach endured in that playoff nightmare 11 springs ago. Locally, Chris Johnston and Bruce Arthur at the Toronto Star; Michael Traikos and Steve Simmons at the Sun; Westhead at TSN.ca and Luke Fox at Sportsnet.ca have written thoughtfully and passionately on the delicate subject.
From this tiny chair, it’s been presented flawlessly. Heartfelt kudos to everyone involved.
MONTREAL vs. SEATTLE — 102 YEARS LATER…
Professional hockey teams from Montreal and Seattle squared off on Tuesday night for the first time since Mar. 30, 1919. The Canadiens lost, 5–1, to the Seattle Kraken at Climate Pledge Arena; the expansion team recording its first–ever home victory. The last meeting between Montreal and Seattle ended, famously, in a no decision for the 1919 Stanley Cup. The Canadiens traveled west to play the Seattle Metropolitans of the Pacific Coast Hockey Association. All games were contested at the Seattle Ice Arena (1915–1963), pictured below, with a capacity of 4,000.
After the fifth game, which Montreal won, 4–3, the series was halted by the Spanish influenza outbreak, which became a pandemic and killed an estimated 50 million people across the globe. Each team had two wins and a tie. Six days after the suspension of play, on Apr. 5, Montreal forward Joe Hall died of the pathogen. Until the full season and playoffs of 2004–05, which were canceled by an owners’ lockout, 1919 had been the only year without a Stanley Cup presentation.
The Metropolitans and Canadiens had also met for the 1917 Stanley Cup, the last prior to formation of the National Hockey League. Seattle prevailed on home ice, 3–1, in a best–of–five series.
PHOTOS BY CHRISTOPHER MAST OF GETTY IMAGES FROM TUESDAY NIGHT’S MONTREAL AT SEATTLE GAME. BRANDON TANEV SCORED TWICE AS THE KRAKEN ROUTED THE CANADIENS, 5–1.
50 YEARS AGO WEDNESDAY at Maple Leaf Gardens…
This is the only Leafs program in my large collection that does not include scoring statistics for the opposing team. Which perhaps foreshadowed the Vancouver at Toronto game of Oct. 27, 1971, given that no goals were scored. It was the first 0–0 tie of the expansion era (beginning in 1967–68) for the Leafs and first–such result since Jan. 13, 1965, at Maple Leaf Gardens, between Toronto and Chicago. Dunc Wilson of the Canucks and Bernie Parent of the Leafs recorded shutouts as Toronto outshot Vancouver, 34–20. Wilson would play 49 games with the Leafs from 1973–75. It was a tame match with only a couple of minor scuffles: roughing penalties were called against Jim Dorey and Bobby Schmautz (later, one of Don Cherry’s favorites with Boston) and on Billy MacMillan and Wayne Maki. John Ashley was the referee, working with linesmen John D’Amico and Leon Stickle.
The most–recent Leafs game to be scoreless through regulation was just prior tp the COVID–19 interruption: Mar. 5, 2020 at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Frederik Andersen and Jonathan Quick were the goalies. The Leafs outshot the Kings, 36–30. Adrian Kempe scored the decisive goal in the shootout for a 1–0 L.A. victory.