TORONTO (Apr. 16) — Given their glistening record against fellow Stanley Cup contenders, the Toronto Maple Leafs should be quite a match for either the Tampa Bay Lightning or Boston Bruins in the opening round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. Since Feb. 28, the Maple Leafs have twice beaten Washington and Carolina; taken three of four points from Florida, and have decidedly overcome the Bruins and Lightning on the road. True, had they not lollygagged, during that period, against Buffalo (three times), Vancouver, Arizona and Montreal, the Leafs would be nose–and–nose with the Panthers atop the Atlantic Division (rather than ten points behind). Neither, as we comprehend, has any Toronto team won a Stanley Cup series since 2004. With solid goaltending, however, the current Maple Leafs are skilled enough to strongly encounter either of their first–round playoff adversaries.
Having won the past two Stanley Cups and likely unconcerned about opponent or starting a series on the road, the Lightning is in cruise control with a mediocre 8–9–2 record since Mar. 8 (the Leafs are 13–4–2, picking up 10 points on T–Bay). But, don’t be fooled. Jon Cooper’s team learned a pair of gut–churning lessons in April 2019 when it got swept by Columbus after a record–breaking 62–win season: a) it helps to play meaningful games in the standings after Christmas… and, b) wasting energy while pursuing the NHL mark for regular–season victories was unhelpful. With a goalie (Andrei Vasilevskiy) and defenseman (Victor Hedman) widely considered the best at their position, Tampa Bay will surprise no one by winning a third consecutive Cup, thus becoming the first–such team since the 1982–83 New York Islanders. The Maple Leafs can beat the Lightning only if the gap between Vasilevskiy and Jack Campbell is razor thin. Toronto has risen above unsettled goaltending in the second half of the season. Doing so in a seven–game playoff series is far–more difficult. So, Campbell has to stay healthy… and rookie Erik Källgren needs enough ice time to efficiently sub for his injury prone partner in the Cup tournament.
Unless Vasilevskiy is sidelined, Tampa Bay has no–such concern. Amid all the noise about Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Auston Matthews in recent years, Vasilevskiy has been the league’s most–valuable commodity.
Yet, there’s a part of me that contends the Leafs could stay with the Lightning better than the Bruins. Clearly the Leafs can skate and score with Tampa Bay, though it’s doubtful they have the same caliber of goaltending and defensive discipline. The Leafs are best when overwhelming the opposition with quick strikes, as they did in their two signature wins of the season — 6–4 at Boston on Mar. 29 and 6–2 at Tampa Bay on Apr. 4. If the Maple Leafs were to get the jump on the defending champion in the first two games of a playoff series, it could end in an upset.
Boston presents a different challenge, even if more familiar to the Blue and White. The Bruins know how to bug the Leafs and the Leafs aren’t very good when pestered. Brad Marchand (Boston) and Tom Wilson (Washington) routinely get under the skin of the Toronto players and fans. Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy — even if not enjoying career statistical seasons — provide the Bruins playoff savvy, having thrice eliminated the Leafs from the opening round of the Stanley Cup tournament. No longer in Toronto’s path, however, is Tuukka Rask, the Hall–of–Fame candidate drafted by the Leafs in 2005 and dealt to the Bruins for Andrew Raycroft in arguably the most–damaging swap in modern franchise history. Instead, the Leafs would face the goaltending duo of Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, with a combined 18 minutes and 34 seconds of playoff experience (by Swayman). Ullmark made 117 appearances with Buffalo from 2015–21, but none after the regular season. Add in the Toronto twosome of Campbell and Källgren… and the four goalies in a Maple Leafs–Bruins playoff series will have combined for seven Stanley Cup starts — all by Campbell, against Montreal, a year ago.
With no more Rask or “Soft Goal Freddie” between the pipes, how could one appraise a Toronto–Boston clash?
While the Leafs will again face Tampa Bay (Apr. 21) and Boston (Apr. 29) before the regular season ends, the recent road conquests of each team should provide confidence. These were decisive, lop–sided wins by the Maple Leafs against established, hardened playoff rivals. In Boston, the Leafs led 3–1 after the first period and 6–1 late in the second. Toronto pulled away from Tampa in the second half of the Apr. 4 meeting at Amalie Arena, outscoring the home side, 4–0 (Matthews contributing a hattrick). Though drawing correlation between the regular schedule and playoffs is often a fool’s paradise, the Leafs should study videotapes of their two biggest wins this season.
All eyes in the Cup tournament will again be on Matthews and Mitch Marner, having thus far combined for 192 points (the Leafs record is 210, set by Doug Gilmour and Dave Andreychuk in the 84–game schedule of 1993–94). If there is limited carryover into the playoffs, once more, the Leafs have no chance to upend either Tampa Bay or Boston. As always, and until proven otherwise, questions abound over the Leafs being belligerent enough to endure the two–month playoff slog. As of this moment, however, my gut tells me Toronto and Tampa Bay would go the distance; goaltending, as usual, to be the deciding factor in Game 7. Though somewhat illogical, I suspect the Bruins would take out the Maple Leafs in six. Either assessment will be updated, of course, in two weeks’ time.
RECORD WATCH: The Maple Leafs have eight games left on their schedule, four against non–playoff teams (Ottawa, New York Islanders, Philadelphia, Detroit). The club is 48–20–6 for 102 points. One more victory ties the franchise mark of 49, set by the 2018–19 club under Mike Babcock; three of the available 16 points equals the club record of 105, also established that season when the team lost a franchise–low 24 games in regulation. The most goals by a Toronto team in one season is 337, set by the 1989–90 edition, of which five players (Gary Leeman, Vincent Damphousse, Ed Olczyk, Daniel Marois, Mark Osborne) contributed more than 70 points. Leeman became just the second Toronto skater, after Rick Vaive, to score more than 50 goals (he had 51). Marois, the impressive sophomore, had a career–best 39 goals. As a team, the Maple Leafs need 51 goals in their final eight games to equal the ’89–90 standard. Not a likely prospect. Never have two Toronto players attained 100 or more points in the same season. Gilmour (111) and Andreychuk (99) came closest in ’93–94. Matthews has 101 so far in 2021–22. Marner has 91 and needs roughly a point–per–game to join his line–mate. Matthews is sitting on a team–record 58 goals. No NHLer has scored 60 since Steven Stamkos of the Lightning in 2011–12.
B.J.’s BIRTHDAY: Leafs legend, Hall–of–Famer and franchise assists leader Borje Salming turns 71 on Sunday. Borje often shares, on Facebook, this tribute I wrote with him a year ago… https://bit.ly/3tooSns.
THE BRUCE HOOD COLLECTION
He was a referee in the National Hockey League from 1966 to 1984, working 1,033 regular–season and 57 playoff games. From 1985 until his death, 33 years later, from cancer, Bruce Hood was my friend… even if I had screamed bloody murder at him in the 1970’s from my season tickets at Maple Leaf Gardens. A year after his retirement, Bruce began to write his first of two books — an autobiography: CALLING THE SHOTS. He and I worked on the first portion of the book; ultimately, author Murray Townsend finished the project with Bruce. To help with the chapters I wrote, Bruce offered me his annual travel and game schedules (below) from 1963–64 (when he was still a minor league official) to 1972–73 in the NHL. These were mostly the pocket–size NHL rule books that came out each year and contained the league’s full schedule in the latter pages. Once his assignments were known, Bruce underlined the games he would work, and often included the initials of the linesmen with whom he skated on a given night. The last time I saw Bruce, in the summer of 2017 at his home in Erin, Ont., I reminded him that I still had his travel booklets. “Hang onto them; I know they’ll be well kept with you,” he replied.
Only later did I find out Bruce was dying of cancer; though he looked thin, he had said nothing to me about illness in our last visit. Neither did giving me a couple of game–used NHL pucks from the late–60’s elevate my suspicion.
Cancer took Bruce before his 82nd birthday on Jan. 5, 2018. He worked many notable games in the NHL, several featured in this look inside his travel logs, which I will always covet. May Bruce Hood rest in eternal peace:
PRIOR TO HIS YEARS IN THE NHL, BRUCE WORKED EXCLUSIVELY IN THE MINORS, ALTERNATING BETWEEN THE AMERICAN, CENTRAL AND WESTERN HOCKEY LEAGUES. THIS LOG OF GAMES FROM THE FIRST HALF OF 1964–65 SHOWED THAT HE OFFICIATED IN SUCH OUTPOSTS AS PROVIDENCE, HERSHEY AND PITTSBURGH (AHL); TULSA, ST. LOUIS AND OMAHA (CHL); SAN FRANCISCO, SEATTLE AND VICTORIA (WHL). HE WOULD OFTEN DRIVE BETWEEN CITIES.
I’M SURE BRUCE PROUDLY UNDERLINED THE GAME (ABOVE) OF FEB. 9, 1966 AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS: HIS FIRST NHL ASSIGNMENT (WITH LINESMEN JOHN D’AMICO AND BRIAN SOPP). THE LEAFS BLANKED THE NEW YORK RANGERS, 3–0; HALL–OF–FAME GOALIE TERRY SAWCHUK MAKING 29 SAVES. BOB PULFORD SCORED FOR TORONTO IN THE SECOND PERIOD; DAVE KEON AND RON ELLIS BEAT ED GIACOMIN 70 SECONDS APART IN THE THIRD. THE FIRST NHL PENALTY ASSESSED BY HOOD WAS A HOOKING MINOR ON RANGERS DEFENSEMAN JIM NEILSON AT 2:05 OF THE MIDDLE FRAME. BRUCE THEN WORKED, FOUR NIGHTS LATER, AT CHICAGO STADIUM, WHERE TWO GOALS BY CHICO MAKI POWERED THE BLACK HAWKS TO A 6–1 ROUT OF NEW YORK. HIS LINESMEN WERE NEIL ARMSTRONG AND MATT PAVELICH.
BRUCE BEGAN THE FINAL YEAR OF THE SIX–TEAM NHL (ABOVE) AS REFEREE IN BOBBY ORR’S FIRST PROFESSIONAL APPEARANCE AT MAPLE LEAF GARDENS (OCT. 29, 1966, WORKING WITH LINESMEN NEIL ARMSTRONG AND BRENT CASSELMAN). HOOD GAVE THE ROOKIE BOSTON DEFENSEMAN A HOOKING PENALTY AT 10:22 OF THE SECOND PERIOD. ED WESTFALL AND RON MURPHY BEAT BRUCE GAMBLE IN THE FINAL FRAME TO LIFT THE VISITORS INTO A 3–3 TIE. FRANK MAHOVLICH, TIM HORTON AND RED KELLY HAD PROVIDED TORONTO A 3–1 LEAD. HOOD CONTINUED TO FOLLOW ORR AND THE BRUINS EARLY IN THE 1966–67 SEASON. BOSTON PLAYED TO A 3–3 DRAW WITH THE NEW YORK RANGERS (NOV. 9) AT THE OLD MADISON SQUARE GARDEN, THEN DEFEATED MONTREAL (NOV. 13), 2–1, AT THE BOSTON GARDEN. ON THE RIGHT–HAND SIDE OF THE PAGE, BRUCE PENNED THE NAMES OF FELLOW NHL REFEREES IN THEIR EARLY SEASON ASSIGNMENTS — AMONG THEM, “JOHN” ASHLEY, “ART” SKOV, “BILL” FRIDAY AND “VERN” BUFFEY.
THE NHL DOUBLED TO 12 TEAMS FOR 1967–68 (ABOVE) AND BRUCE WORKED THE FIRST TWO GAMES IN THE HISTORY OF THE ST. LOUIS BLUES. LINESMEN MATT PAVELICH AND WILLARD NORRIS JOINED HIM ON OPENING NIGHT (OCT. 11) AT ST. LOUIS ARENA. BILL MASTERTON SCORED THE FIRST GOAL FOR THE MINNESOTA NORTH STARS (NOW DALLAS STARS), BEATING SETH MARTIN ON THE POWERPLAY AT 15:20 OF THE SECOND PERIOD. MASTERTON, THREE MONTHS LATER, WOULD BECOME THE ONLY NHL PLAYER TO DIE AS THE RESULT OF A GAME INJURY — HITTING THE BACK OF HIS HEAD ON THE ICE AT THE METROPOLITAN SPORTS CENTER (JAN. 13, 1968) WHEN CHECKED BY DEFENSEMEN RON HARRIS AND LARRY CAHAN OF THE OAKLAND SEALS. NORTH BAY, ONT. NATIVE LARRY KEENAN SCORED THE FIRST–EVER GOAL FOR THE BLUES. WAYNE RIVERS BEAT GARY BAUMAN WITH 1:26 LEFT, PROVIDING ST. LOUIS A 2–2 TIE WITH THE NORTH STARS. HOOD, PAVELICH AND NORRIS STAYED IN ST. LOUIS TO WORK, TWO NIGHTS LATER (OCT. 13), THE FIRST–EVER ROAD GAME OF THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS. AB McDONALD, ART STRATTON AND EARL INGARFIELD SCORED AGAINST SETH MARTIN IN A 3–1 TRIUMPH FOR THE VISITORS. UP NEXT, ON OCT. 18, WAS THE FIRST NHL GAME BETWEEN MINNESOTA AND PITTSBURGH, AT THE OLD CIVIC ARENA. HALL–OF–FAMER ANDY BATHGATE SCORED ALL OF THE PENGUINS GOALS IN A 3–3 DRAW WITH THE NORTH STARS. PAT SHETLER AND WILLARD NORRIS WERE THE LINESMEN.
HOOD BEGAN THE SECOND YEAR OF EXPANSION BY TRAVELING WEST WITH LINESMEN RON EGO AND BOB MYERS TO WORK THE FIRST TWO HOME GAMES OF THE OAKLAND SEALS: A 5–1 LOSS TO MINNESOTA (OCT. 11, 1968) AND A 4–4 TIE AGAINST LOS ANGELES (OCT. 13). BRUCE THEN DID A QUICK REFEREEING TOUR OF THE AMERICAN MIDWEST: MONTREAL AT ST. LOUIS (OCT. 16), LOS ANGELES AT MINNESOTA (OCT. 19) AND OAKLAND AT CHICAGO (OCT. 20).
THIS DOUBLE–PAGE LOG FROM 1969–70 SHOWED THAT BRUCE STILL WORKED MINOR LEAGUE GAMES WITH HIS NHL SCHEDULE. SUCH AS A WESTERN TRIP IN FEBRUARY DURING WHICH HE REFEREED FOUR GAMES IN AS MANY HIGHTS: ST. LOUIS AT OAKLAND (NHL), ST. LOUIS AT LOS ANGELES (NHL), VANCOUVER AT SAN DIEGO (WHL), PHOENIX AT SALT LAKE CITY (WHL). BRUCE FINISHED THAT SEASON WITH ARGUABLY HIS MOST–MEMORABLE OFFICIATING ASSIGNMENT: GAME 4 OF THE 1970 STANLEY CUP FINAL AT BOSTON GARDEN WHEN BOBBY ORR FAMOUSLY SCORED ON GLENN HALL OF ST. LOUIS IN OVERTIME TO WIN THE STANLEY CUP. THE IMAGE OF ORR FLYING HORIZONTALLY THROUGH THE AIR, ARMS STRETCHED IN CELEBRATION, REMAINS AMONG THE MOST ICONIC IN PROFESSIONAL SPORT.
AS PART OF HIS GAME LOG IN 1970–71 (ABOVE), BRUCE WORKED THE FIRST WESTERN SWING (OCT. 27–NOV. 1) OF THE EXPANSION BUFFALO SABRES, IN WHICH THE VISTORS WERE POUNDED BY A 17–5 COMBINED SCORE. FIRST, WAS A 7–2 TROUNCING IN VANCOUVER BY THE CANUCKS, ALSO AN EXPANSION TEAM. THEN A 6–1 PASTING IN OAKLAND BY THE NEWLY NAMED CALIFORNIA GOLDEN SEALS. AND, A 4–2 DEFEAT, THE NEXT NIGHT, AT THE FORUM IN LOS ANGELES. BRUCE THEN OFFICIATED NEW YORK AT OAKLAND (NOV. 4) AND NEW YORK AT L.A. (NOV. 7) BEFORE COMING BACK EAST.
TO BEGIN THE SECOND WEEK OF THE 1972–73 SCHEDULE, BRUCE WORKED THE FIRST–EVER NHL GAME IN ATLANTA (THE FLAMES AND NEW YORK ISLANDERS WERE EXPANSION TEAMS THAT SEASON). ERNIE HICKE FOR THE HOME SIDE AND JIM LORENTZ OF THE VISITING BUFFALO SABRES SCORED FIRST–PERIOD GOALS IN A 1–1 TIE ON OCT. 14, 1972. BRUCE WORKED WITH LINESMEN JOHN D’AMICO AND BOB McLAREN. THREE NIGHTS LATER FOUND BRUCE AT THE NASSAU COLISEUM AS THE PITTSBURGH PENGUINS WON, 5–0, IN THE ISLANDERS THIRD NHL HOME GAME. KEN SCHINKEL SCORED TWICE, WITH EDDIE SHACK, SYL APPS JR. AND JEAN PRONOVOST ADING GOALS FOR THE VISITORS. DENNIS HERON MADE 24 STOPS FOR THE SHUTOUT. HOOD’S LINESMEN WERE MATT PAVELICH AND BOB McLAREN.
DURING MY LAST VISIT WITH BRUCE (TOP–LEFT) IN JULY 2017, HE GAVE ME PUCKS IN HIS COLLECTION FROM THE FIRST NHL GAMES HE OFFICIATED IN MINNESOTA (NOV. 18, 1967, A 2–2 TIE BETWEEN THE NORTH STARS AND PHILADELPHIA FLYERS) AND OAKLAND (FEB. 11, 1968, A 4–3 WIN FOR THE SEALS OVER THE TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS).