Toronto mayor Rob Ford declared Monday Blue and White day in honour of the Maple Leafs return to the post-season.
Personally I don’t care what His Doofus declares since he does so on a regular basis and often incoherently.
City official endorsements aside, there is much anticipation in the air, fuelled by the multiple channels of media that only the Centre of the Hockey Universe can muster. The Leafs “pre-game” show began at the crack of dawn with wall-to-wall coverage to feed the public every tiny morsel of Leafs news.
Then there’s my little blog here to add to the already full pile but we like to think it’s a most pleasant read.
At any rate, it’s the first Leafs playoff game in the city in nine years. Many of us may think back to what we were doing back in May 2004. The general feeling is that its been a really, really long time between playoff games in these parts though for me it’s always “Where the hell did the time go?”
Year after year of watching the playoffs my thoughts drifted occasionally into how fantastic it would be to be part of this. It seemed a bit surreal, at least highly improbable. Our team, our city, was decidedly a city of losers. We couldn’t even win for all our losing and secure a lottery draft pick.
Meantime, other burgs took their appearance in the playoffs practically as a given — Detroit, Philadelphia, Vancouver, Boston, Pittsburgh, San Jose — even Phoenix managed a few post-season berths over these nine years for crying out loud. We couldn’t even compete with Phoenix! A city so undeserving of an NHL franchise by reasons of geography and outright disinterest — even they did better playoff-wise than the iconic Maple Leafs.
Yet here we are in the centre of the hockey universe and year after year we never even managed to creep into the lowest seed. Always on the outside. Always failure. Just plain losers.
And now here we are. For real.
I think many fans are still tentative after living with the loser mentality for so long. Yes we’re extremely happy that we’ve made it but it still feels a bit foreign and strange. Like a new pair of shoes that need a break-in period.
But now that it’s Game 3, those shoes need to do full-time duty. The Leafs are returning confident and rejuvenated after an inspired bounce-back game Saturday in Boston. We know now that the team belongs in these playoffs after a shaky start and on a given night, with them firing on all cylinders, they can beat the best of them.
However, for the playoff juices to really get flowing in this town, this series is still looking for that dominating storyline to fixate on and focus the attention. Some magical, egregious, outstanding or controversial incident that would set the tongue-wagging into overdrive. Something preferably that would incite revenge, that turns a series into one of those legendary battles that completely enthralls us and lives on in our memories.
Remember the Darcy Tucker hit on Mike Peca in the 2002 Islanders series? How that became a defining moment of the series? Or the Tie Domi suspension on New Jersey’s Scott Niedermayer in ’01. And to those who were around, who could forget the ’93 playoff run for the ages with Doug Gilmour as the ferocious leader of a team that captured a city. And of course any playoff series against the Sens who always managed to make the Leafs look good no matter where they finished in the regular season.
Speaking of which, take the Ottawa-Montreal series. It’s now escalated into a spat between coaches after a fight-filled Game 3 following the controversial Eric Gryba hit on Lars Eller in the opener that set everything off.
The Leafs-Boston series is still searching for that compelling storyline or issue. It doesn’t need to involve blood, violence or fights either. It could be a controversial call, a terrible or outstanding play, trash-talking, Tweeting… whatever. If we truly want that delicious playoff drama hockey fans and pundits crave at this time of year, we need the Hockey Gods to work their magic. That said, we should be careful what we ask for as it could come back to bite us.
Enjoy your Blue and White day and do your thing to celebrate and support this team.
It may not come around again for a long time.