TORONTO (May 1) — It ranks among the oldest sayings in the English language: You get what you pay for.
Or, in this instance, what you decline to pay for.
An otherwise–glorious weekend for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment — its hockey team finally winning a playoff round; the company securing extra home dates when Florida staggered Boston — was tinged by an inglorious moment at the most–inopportune time. Entirely as a result of MLSE’s refusal to pay travel costs so veteran radio voices Joe Bowen and Jim Ralph could be on site in Tampa for Game 6 of the opening–round series between the Leafs and Lightning. At the mercy of a Sportsnet television feed from Amalie Arena, off which Bowen and Ralph called the match, the Hall–of–Fame announcer misidentified the overtime goal scorer that sent Toronto to the second playoff series for the first time since 2004. And, no one could possibly blame Bowen for the mix up.
A wide–angle view showed John Tavares circling in front of the Tampa net and firing toward Andrei Vasilevskiy. The puck clearly entered the goal… at which point the Switcher in the control truck outside the arena focused on Morgan Rielly excitedly racing toward a scrum of teammates. Bowen had no choice but to assume that Rielly had scored the biggest Leafs goal in nearly two decades. There was no evidence of Tavares on the TV feed and Bowen told his radio audience that the Toronto defenseman had struck for another monster tally against the Lightning (Rielly won Game 3 in overtime with a seeing–eye floater from the left–wing boards). From the telecast booth in the arena, Chris Cuthbert of Sportsnet had an unobstructed view of the decisive play and called it accurately. “It’s John Tavares behind the net… coming out in front… shot… scorrrrrrre!!… John Tavares!… they finally caught Lightning in a bottle… and the Maple Leafs have broken the 19–year curse.” For three full seconds after Cuthbert roared “John Tavares!”, the Sportsnet camera followed Rielly up the ice (as below) from right to left.
How could Bowen not have assumed that the longest–serving Toronto player had ended the series?
“When the TV shot doesn’t show the Tavares celebration until well after the fact, it’s rather difficult to make the call off the TV monitor,” Bowen posted on Twitter. “By the initial celebration it appeared Rielly had scored. My bad!”
Wrong. It was MLSE’s bad. A company swimming in billions with ownership of the National Hockey League’s highest–valued franchise could have ferried Bowen and Ralph between Toronto and Tampa on a private Learjet. Or, certainly, on a non–stop Air Canada flight to the Gulf coast. Instead, conserving relative pennies on the dollar led to an embarrassing mistake by the long–serving voice of the Leafs, who is finishing his 40th season behind the microphone. And, it was all so freaking unnecessary. Why MLSE chooses to look like small potatoes with its signature sports team is an abiding mystery. “It’s a challenge, it really is,” Bowen told The Canadian Press about calling games off TV. “In my humble estimation, it’s not the right way to do it but the powers that be at present believe — I guess it’s a cost–cutting measure of some sort — so this is what we’re doing and trying to do the best we can under the circumstances.” Travel restrictions during the COVID–19 pandemic limited play callers in all sports to improvising from home. But, the overwhelming majority of broadcasters have since resumed on–site work.
Just not Bowen and Ralph, who paint a verbal picture for arguably the NHL’s most–rabid fan base.
Obviously, MLSE learned a hard lesson. Bowen and Ralph will be on hand at FLA Live Arena for Games 3, 4 and (possibly) 6 of the Maple Leafs–Panthers series. But, not before a colossal embarrassment for the company.
THE FREAKED–OUT BRUINS: All of Leafs Nation was evidently cheering for Florida to complete its mind–blowing comeback against Boston and eliminate the greatest regular–season club (by wins and points) in NHL history.
Which transpired when Carter Verhaeghe beat a screened Jeremy Swayman with a rising shot at 8:35 of overtime on Sunday night. The result kayoed Toronto’s biggest playoff rival of the past decade and allowed the Leafs to gain home–ice advantage for the Eastern Conference semifinal. If there truly is such an edge after visiting teams thoroughly dominated the opening round. Carolina (against the Islanders), Toronto and Florida all closed out their series with extra–time victories on the road. Seattle, a second–year franchise, bounced the Stanley Cup–champion Colorado Avalanche in Game 7, also away from home. For their part, the Bruins appeared mentally incapacitated during the overtime session that led to their demise. A feather floating through the air could have been heard after Brandon Montour of the Panthers knotted the score with one minute left in regulation. The Bruins noticeably sagged as they skated to the dressing room for the third intermission. If watching Florida rebound from a 3–1 series deficit wasn’t enough to stupefy the skaters in black and gold, the tying marker put Boston over the edge.
The 135–point players skated like drunken sailors in overtime. They couldn’t complete a 15–foot pass and repeatedly turned over the puck in the neutral zone. Watching from your livingroom couch, you could tell it was a matter of time before the visitors — thoroughly controlling play — struck for the dagger. Bruins’ TV voice Jack Edwards, forever contentious, could barely spit out perhaps the worst end–of–series call in Stanley Cup history. He was slurring his words… trying, without success, to verbalize the lowest moment of his broadcasting career.
And, while the Maple Leafs clearly prospered from Florida’s incredible triumph (the Panthers finished 43 points behind Boston in the standings), it’s uncertain that Toronto hockey fans gained much else. If a long–time follower of the Leafs, ask yourself to recall the three biggest moments of games against the Panthers since Florida joined the NHL in 1993–94. It’s unlikely you’ll come up with even a single–such example. Far–more compelling would have been a fourth Toronto–Boston playoff clash in the past decade. But, this spring is starting to resemble that of 1993, during which the Maple Leafs were gifted upset results elsewhere that eliminated the top three teams (Pittsburgh, Boston, Chicago) from the regular season. Toronto did its part by cashiering the fifth–best club (Detroit) in the opening round (more below) and advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup semifinals before losing a heartbreaker to Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings at Maple Leaf Gardens. Whether or not Florida proves a softer touch than the Bruins in the upcoming round remains to be determined.
On paper, however, this was a blessing–from–above for the Blue and White.
MY SECOND–ROUND PLAYOFF PREDICTIONS
(HOME team in CAPITAL letters.)
I was 6–2 in Round 1, missing on Boston over Florida and Colorado over Seattle.
New Jersey over CAROLINA in 6.
TORONTO over Florida in 6.
Edmonton over VEGAS in 7.
DALLAS over Seattle in 6.
May 1, 1993 — JOE LOUIS ARENA, Detroit…
Somehow, it was 30 years ago tonight. Somehow, that passage of time just rolls off the tongue. But, for anyone that remembers Nikolai Borschevsky’s overtime winning goal at Joe Louis Arena, it might as well be yesterday.
I covered the Maple Leafs–Red Wings opening–round playoff series for The FAN–1430 (to become The FAN–590 in February 1995), eight months after we launched Canada’s first all–sports radio station. The Blue Jays, six months earlier, had defeated the Atlanta Braves to win their first of consecutive World Series titles. Now, the Leafs — with Doug Gilmour playing out of his mind — had pulled a stunning upset over favored Detroit. In Game 6, just two nights prior, the Red Wings had bombed the Leafs, 7–3, at Maple Leaf Gardens and most figured the decisive match to be a formality. Left undecided was Detroit’s margin of victory. But, that wasn’t the path for the Leafs in the spring of 1993. As it appears to not be for the current Toronto side. After Gilmour knotted the score at 17:17 of the third period, Borschevsky, a minuscule rookie from Tomsk, Russia, redirected a point shot by defenseman Bob Rouse past goalie Tim Cheveldae. Just two minutes and 35 seconds after the extra period began. Stunning JLA into silence and setting up a Round 2 match with St. Louis. I kept scrapbooks of newspaper stories from that ’93 playoff run. In 2016, TSN asked me to bring them to its studio in Agincourt, off McCowan Rd. and the 401. Producer Matt Dunn safely kept the books in his office desk until today, when ol’ lazy pants decided to fetch them.
That’s me and Matt in the photo, above, with my haul of ’93 memorabilia (at right).
Below, are scrapbook images from Toronto’s dramatic and unforgettable Game 7 triumph over Detroit: