“Car 34, Where Were You?”

TORONTO (Apr. 21) — Was it a look of confusion… or a deer in the headlights? Decide for yourself, as captain John Tavares left the ice (below) after a severely humbling, 5–1 loss by the Maple Leafs to the Boston Bruins in the 2024 playoff opener at TD Garden. Whichever you choose, the thoughts and images swirling through Tavares’s mind in this Sportsnet image were likely predictable. Something along the lines of “oh, sh**, here we go again!” Yes, it was a glaringly familiar non–performance by the Maple Leafs against their Division tormentors. Precisely the result Toronto naysayers of the past five years would have warned you about. In all its sorry gory.

Losing a hockey game to the Bruins, especially in Boston, is hardly a badge of dishonor. The B’s are 58–15–9 over the past two regular seasons at TD Garden. It’s a place where a visiting team needs to show up… or risk being humiliated. No rival squad should understand this more than the Leafs, who have routinely gotten their heads handed to them on Causeway Street. Not just at the current arena with Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, David Krejci and David Pastrnak leading the way, but at the old Boston Garden, which stood mere inches from the east wall of its successor. Oh, the nightmares Leaf fans endured in the era of Bobby Orr, Phil Esposito, Derek Sanderson and the big, bad Bruins. Losing the first two games of the 1969 playoffs, 10–0 and 7–0, particularly stands out. Not as vividly as the “Causeway Calamity” of May 13, 2013, when the Leafs coughed up a 4–1, third–period lead and lost Game 7 on Bergeron’s overtime goal. Or, when Frederik Andersen melted down between the pipes in the decisive matches of 2018 and 2019. The stinker in Game 1 of the current playoff round ranks with any the Leafs have offered fans of Beantown in the 65 years since Toronto last eliminated Boston in a playoff series (April 7, 1959). How the Maple Leafs could be so blatantly unprepared for the opener is an abiding mystery… and a blight on Sheldon Keefe. If, in fact, any coach could get through to this overcompensated clan.

Again, there was Auston Matthews, leaning on the boards at the visitors’ bench in the waning seconds with that familiar image of resignation on his face. Matthews was nowhere to be found in the opener, extending his playoff scoring drought to six games; a pointless streak to four. It’s too old and familiar a yarn to rehash in detail here.

Suffice to say that Auston did nothing in Game 1 to dispel the notion that he cannot (or will not) elevate performance when it matters. Where was the drive, determination and artistry that marked another majestic regular season? Obviously, there’s lots of time for Matthews to re–write the narrative this spring. But, his no–show in Game 1 had to be gut–churning for fans of the Blue and White. Same with Mitch Marner. Where does it end? Can it end?

At what point, if ever, will Matthews look in the mirror and slap himself? Asking, inwardly, how he can be so utterly dominant for six months heading into the playoffs. Then comparatively invisible when the tournament begins. If it doesn’t perturb and perplex him by now, eight years on, it never will. Those that jocularly poke fun at No. 34 for his purses and affiliation with Justin Bieber will gather momentum. This is a player with limitless talent and limited conviction. His apologists are spent. It’s high time for Auston to grow a set and poke his nose into the playoff fray. He is looked upon, league wide, as somewhat fraudulent once the stakes increase. And, it’s no wonder why.

The Leafs came to Boston for a split of the first two matches. Which can be achieved on Monday night.

Even if that seems absurd after the debacle in Game 1.


10 comments on ““Car 34, Where Were You?”

  1. Dear Howard;
    My conclusion the top … coach/manager and team president are to blame. Never change the plan to the game, excuses like “Tampa/Boston/Montreal” have our number what kind of organization keeps the motivators to allow this? This reminds me of the Buffalo bills that went to 4 or 5 superbowls and lost every single one.

  2. Just to add…

    Howard, I enjoyed watching the Islanders game. I recall your suggestion that Toronto should have hired St. Patrick before the Islanders made the first move. With Freddy soft-goal Anderson in the net, there’s a chance the Islanders take the series. Great Move by GM Lou

  3. Matthews couldn’t buy a goal at the end of the season, and it was more of the same in game 1.

    The Bruins are a great team, and if you don’t show up with your A+ game, score first, and rough the “sonofaguns” up you aren’t going to win.

    The Klingberg signing flushed Toronto’s off-season planning down the dumper. Having a puck-moving defenseman who could advance the puck up to the forwards would have changed the dynamic of this club. They weren’t able to replace him as there’s nobody who wants to get rid of a A1 defenseman. Dubas was duped into paying a kings/fools ransom for Karlsson

    I’m optimistic but it’s not looking too good.

  4. Last nights show was yet again another rerun of “Return of the Invisible Men”.

    I fell off my chair laughing late in the 3rd when the outro music going to commercial was Aerosmith’s song “Same Old Song and Dance”!

  5. Howard, it’s insane to expect a different result from a “team” led by selfish, soft, spoiled, and immature players who until now have never been held accountable for their ineptness. Someone should start a class action suit against these imposters.

  6. Howard you’re being terribly unfair to Awesome Mathews.
    It’s a MURSE not a PURSE.
    As for the collection of players wearing the same uniform (as opposed to being a team) the result was what I expected, as was the performance of Mathews and little perimeter Mitchie.

  7. It’s also the supporting group of players…
    cheap pickups with what’s left of the Leaf salary cap…I’ve seen better talent at pickup games…
    One thing they do consistently is wait too long to decide where to pass the puck allowing opposing players to steal it…it’s been happening all season…but it’s a deadly sin in the playoffs…

  8. Howard, gave up on the Leafs last season after 30 years…. The over the top buffer of reality that Sportsnet / TSN give this team for obvious reasons just became too much. My BP was in check all last night as I trashed talked all Leaf puppets in my circle of friends. Never felt better during a leaf playoff game! Go Oilers or Jets!

  9. I, like every other Leaf fan tuned in to watch the Leafs trounce the Bruins but again, like all the other hopefuls, I got that all too familiar taste of disappointment. Like you say Howie, the Bruins had an incredible season and they could take it all this year but at this level we should at least be able to make a game of it. I tuned out after the second period to watch some entertaining television.

  10. Isn’t it easy to shut good players (Matthews, Marner) down in the playoffs when they don’t have a good second centre (Tavares) or a good defenceman (Rielly) or good goaltending (Samsonov)? Auston almost scored when he went around Swayman and with an open net on a sharp angle, hit the post with his shot. Leafs had a difficult time getting on the inside.

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