A warm hello to all the readers who’ve stumbled upon my little blog where I put in my two cents worth about hockey, mostly Leafs. This is a special time of course for die-hard Leafs’ fans as they are in the playoffs for the first time in nine years. I will be chronicling their fortunes, following the storylines and hopefully adding colour and humour to what’s sure to be a roller-coaster of a ride for all hockey fans. Whether the beloved Buds go down in four straight or make an implausibly long playoff run, check this space for a refreshing spin on all things Leafs.
Game One — May 1. Leafs vs Bruins in Boston.
What a great day it is to be a Leafs fan. The calendar has flipped to May, a gorgeous day in Southern Ontario and the Leafs, finally, finally! take the ice tonight in their first playoff game since 2004. About as good as it gets. You could make the argument that facing the Canadiens in the first round would have been even sweeter but let’s not split hairs: The Leafs are in the post-season and that fact is almost so surreal that it’s barely sunk in.
Amid all this sweet anticipation is also a little anxiety. Past season series against the Bruins have not gone well for the Leafs but this season Boston, just two years removed from a formidable Stanley Cup win, do not look as scary. Toronto posted a 1-2-1 record this season vs the Bruins, losing in a shootout in one of the losses. Under Randy Carlyle, they’ve closed the competitive gap and refuse to be pushed around by anyone including the bruising Bruins who just aren’t as intimidating as they were a short time ago. That said, most give the physical edge to Boston but only slightly. We all know the stats — how the Leafs led the league in fighting majors and tough guys Colton Orr, Fraser McLaren and Mark Fraser aren’t afraid to drop the gloves with anyone. Whether Orr or McLaren will be in the line-up regularly — given fighting takes a back seat in the playoffs to productivity — remains to be seen. But you never know with Carlyle, a coach who believes teams need a mean streak to be successful.
There are of course many other questions and storylines that will unfold over the course of the series.
Will Phil Kessel finally build on his 52-point season and step out of the shadow cast by Zdeno Chara who has owned him in head-to-head match-ups? Or will he once again disappear and continue to frustrate Leafs’ fans?
Will James Reimer pass the test of being a legitimate #1 goaltender against these Bruins?
Does Nazem Kadri find his scoring touch again after cooling off this month?
Will the defence manage to cut down on turnovers? Will Mikhail Grabovski be a player or non-factor as he’s mostly been all season? Will Tyler Bozak’s injury reduce his effectiveness? Can Joffrey Lupul find his scorching scoring touch he had in between injuries and suspensions?
So many intriguing questions that will be answered in one form or another. It all begins tonight. Welcome to the Stanley Cup playoffs Leafs fans. Settle in for a wild ride.