May the 4th Be With You

TORONTO (May 4) — Some impertinent notes and notions on the Saturday of Game 7…

Tonight will mark the eighth time that the Toronto Maple Leafs have appeared in a Stanley Cup playoff game on May 4. The club’s record in the first seven: 3–4. The Leafs did not play on this date until 1978, after upsetting the New York Islanders in the Cup quarterfinals. At the Forum in Montreal, the dynastic Canadiens edged the Leafs, 3–2, in Game 2 of the semifinals; the Habs en route to a four–game sweep. A much–happier hour for the Leafs and their fans occurred in the club’s second playoff match on this date — in 1994 against San Jose at Maple Leaf Gardens. After losing the opening match of the Western Conference semifinal at home two nights earlier, the Leafs bounced back with an impressive 5–1 victory (memories, below, from my ’94 playoff scrapbook). Toronto ultimately eliminated the stubborn Sharks in Game 7. More relief arrived on May 4, 2002, in the second round against Ottawa. The Leafs had clipped the New York Islanders in seven physical, emotional, at times violent encounters in the opening series; each team holding serve on home ice. Clearly suffering a first–round hangover, the Leafs were fodder for the Senators in the opener of the next round. Ottawa romped, 5–0, at Air Canada Centre.

A 2–0 Senators lead hung in the balance, 22 years ago tonight, until Gary Roberts scored from a face–off at 4:30 of the third overtime period (remember covering that marathon for The FAN–590). It remains the third–longest match in Leafs history. Toronto went on to a seven–game elimination of Ottawa. There was no forgetting this date for nine long years after Jeremy Roenick stuck a Game 6 dagger in the Leafs on May 4, 2004. His overtime goal for Philadelphia at the ACC eliminated the Leafs from the playoffs… until 2013, when the club reappeared after the 48–game, lockout–shortened season (we’ll spare you reminder of how that series with Boston ended).

The best omen on May 4 for Leafs fans occurred during that ill–fated opening round, when the club triumphed, 4–2, in Boston after messily dropping the opener, 4–1. Nothing else happened on this date for nine years, until Tampa Bay defeated the Leafs, 5–3, at Scotiabank Arena in Game 2 of the 2022 opening round. The Lightning had destroyed the Leafs, 5–0, in the first game, two nights earlier. Tampa won the series on the road in Game 7. Then, last year, Game 2 of the second round against Florida occurred on this date. The Leafs lost, 3–2, at home and went to Sunrise down 0–2 in the series. The Panthers ultimately prevailed in Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena.

As mentioned, it was 30 years ago tonight that the Leafs routed San Jose at the Gardens to draw even in their second–round series. I covered the game for The FAN–590 then flew, the next day, to San Francisco for the middle–three matches of the Leafs–Sharks quarrel at San Jose Arena (now SAP Center). That’s right, during the 1994 playoffs, the team with the better record could decide on a traditional 2–2–1–1–1 best–of–seven format… or chose to go 2–3–2 and have the final two encounters on home ice. The Leafs selected Door No. 2 and thus played three consecutive games in San Jose. After landing at San Francisco Airport on this date, I was able to procure the Bay Area newspapers for their coverage of the Leafs victory in Game 2. Along with the type of in–depth coverage from local papers that, sadly, no longer exists. This, from May 4, 1994 at Maple Leaf Gardens:

Tonight marks the 27th time the Maple Leafs will compete in Game 7 of a Stanley Cup round. The club’s record in decisive matches is 12–14 (5–11 on the road / 7–3 at home). The most–recent Game 7 occurred nearly two years ago — on May 14, 2022 — when Tampa Bay edged the Leafs, 2–1, at Scotiabank Arena.

On four occasions, the Maple Leafs have gone to overtime in Game 7:

Apr. 09, 1950 — Leo Reise scored for Detroit in a 1–0 victory at Olympia Stadium.
Apr. 29, 1978 — Lanny McDonald scored for Toronto in a 2–1 victory over the Islanders at Nassau Coliseum.
May 01, 1993 — Nikolai Borschevsky scored for Toronto in a 4–3 victory over Detroit at Joe Louis Arena.
May 13, 2013 — Patrice Bergeron scored for Boston in a 5–4 victory at TD Garden.

The last time the Leafs won Game 7 of a series was in the opening round of 2004, at home, to Ottawa.

The last Game 7 on the road for the Leafs was in 2019, at Boston, a 5–1 Bruins romp.

FINAL NOTES: Incredibly, the Leafs are .500 against Boston in all–time playoff series. I say incredibly because the Bruins have won the past six clashes, dating to 1959. Prior to that, however, Toronto built an 8–2 mark in 10 post–season series. It was on Apr. 7, 1959 that the Leafs last eliminated the Bruins, with a 3–2 triumph at the old Boston Garden. Gerry Ehman and Frank Mahovlich were Toronto’s top scorers that playoff year… The best individual performances in Stanley Cup toil were authored by Doug Gilmour and Darryl Sittler. The Leafs famously played 21 games in 42 nights of the 1993 tournament and Gilmour put up a team–record 35 points. The following year, with sore ankles, Gilmour was double–shifted by Pat Burns for three rounds. He added 28 points in 18 games. With 77 points, Gilmour remains the all–time franchise leader in the playoffs. Sittler stands fourth, with 65 points, trailing only Gilmour, Mats Sundin and Dave Keon. In 1977, at the peak of his career while skating alongside Lanny McDonald, Sittler erupted for 21 points in nine games as the Leafs ousted Pittsburgh in a best–of–three preliminary round, then won the first two games of the next series in Philadelphia, but lost in six. Lanny had 17 points in nine games… I remember the first time I attended a Leafs playoff game: Apr. 6, 1969, at the Gardens, against (who else?) Boston. It became a somewhat notable night in franchise history as owner Stafford Smythe fired GM/coach Punch Imlach moments after the 3–2 loss in Game 4. Imlach had choreographed the Leafs Stanley Cup dynasty of the 1960’s, but the club had been thoroughly humiliated in the first two games of the ’69 series, getting bombed 10–0 and 7–0 at Boston Garden. The games in Toronto were much closer. Boston survived, 4–3, in the third match before completing the sweep. My father, being the person he is (and always has been), gave me his ticket for Game 4. I sat, at age 10, with his great friend and former accounting partner, Bernie Kraft, in the firm’s season tickets — West Blues (later Reds), Sec. 46, Row M… The first Leafs playoff game I attended in the press box at MLG was on Apr. 12, 1986, when Toronto completed a shocking sweep of Chicago in the best–of–five division semifinal. The Blackhawks had finished 29 points ahead of the Leafs in the regular season, but Toronto prevailed, 5–3 and 6–4, at Chicago Stadium; then, 7–2 before one of the most–delirious crowds I ever recall on Carlton St. Coached by the late Dan Maloney, the Leafs then lost a tough, seven–game round to the St. Louis Blues… That club, like so many in the post–1967 history of the Leafs, was largely in disarray behind center ice. But, the talent up front may have been closest to the current era. Wendel Clark was a rookie. So was Steve Thomas. There was Gary Leeman (later, a 51–goal shooter) and Tom Fergus, a big, lanky center who played 357 games for the Leafs, compiling 297 points (73 in 1985–86). Russ Courtnall, a smallish but quick center with soft hands, had nine points in the 10 playoff games of ’86; he would later be dealt to Montreal in a lamentable swap. Rick Vaive was still with the Leafs, just more than a year before his trade to Chicago. Vaive had 33 goals for Toronto during the season; he was the first Leaf to score 50 goals (in 1981–82). A good, offensive unit featured Peter Ihnacak at center flanking Walt Poddubny and Miroslav Frycer (both now deceased). And, Al Iafrate still ranks among the most–gifted Leafs defensemen of all time. He, too, excelled elsewhere, enjoying his best season (25 goals, 66 points) in 1992–93 with Washington… The most–memorable Leafs playoff game I have covered? Easy: Game 6 of the Stanley Cup semifinals on May 27, 1993 at the Los Angeles Forum. All I need is mention the names of Gilmour, Kerry Fraser and Wayne Gretzky. Leaf fans know the rest… As of this morning, Matthews’ status for Game 7 was “undetermined”. Shocking, huh?… Leafs win tonight, 4–2.


3 comments on “May the 4th Be With You

  1. Are you sure that it is 22 years since a 2–0 Senators lead hung in the balance until Roberts slipped it by the goalie?…….I remember it like it happened yesterday.

    Putting Matthews in at this point would be the worst coaching decision ever. (same with Reeves) Let the men who have been dodging the guillotine, and blocking shots with their faces play. They will decide if they want to take a road-trip down to florida.

  2. If…er…when the Leafs lose tonight, the top brass can rationalize the loss on Matthews not being available. In which case everyone keeps their job.

  3. First class commentary Howard! For those of us of your vintage- it has been very very hard to watch the Leafs in these playoffs( and last many dating back to 2013). I cannot recall the last time I watched the Leafs dominate another playoff team- let alone in game 7 situations. In the 2013 Boston series- up 3 goals in third period of game 7- rookie Matt Frattin- fresh from Hobey Baker finalist status and out of NCAA Frozen Four- gets a breakaway on Bruins- goal doesn’t go in- and you get that sinking feeling that three goal comeback not impossible for Bruins. Bruins in game six in Toronto were down 2 goals and only a Chara missed shot in last few seconds that game from going to OT at the then ACC- as Bruins had narrowed the game to one goal deficit.

    We shall see tonight. I’m happy with the growth of new players like Knies and McMann(latter has not appeared this series so far) and a heavier D. You have been remarkably sage in your past and present thoughts that Leafs need top notch goaltending , a heavy shot and puck moving large body elite defenseman- and players that are keen to play a team game. I am mixed in agreeing or disagreeing with you about Auston Matthews- but as I type this- this seventh game has not been played yet. An imaginary trade of Matthews( if he ageed to waive no trade) would likely yield a massive haul of quality players. I’m hoping this indeed is not imaginary!

    I am in agreement with many old timer Leafs fans- and perhaps yourself Howard- if Leafs do not only win this series against the Bruins – and don’t go deep or win against Florida- serious team changes will be needed next season. Ultimately- what could kill the Leafs tonight ( and so far this series) is the very poor power play ( presently one for 20) and lacklustre PK. I will be most upset if the Leafs give up a shortie tonight ( they are very overdue) and even more chiseled if they get blown out.

    Ultimately, upper Leaf management ( read Shanny and possibly others) may have been too stubborn to make changes and could have played hardball on excessive salaries for so called top four. I realize Mitch Marner will go on and play much better in a different hockey market- but I am hopeful the salary freed up in such a proposed departure- can yield a decent D man- assuming Matthews is not at all traded

    Thanks again Howard!

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