Time heals all wounds. Almost 20 years ago at this time the LA Kings were on quite a Cup drive. Sound familiar? They were taking out Canadian teams as if they were the Phoenix Coyotes, Colorado Avalanche and Gary Bettman all rolled into one. The Kings defeated the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks before hunkering down for seven games with the Leafs. We all know what happened, but those suffering from PTSD or ignorance can catch up here:
This was the closest the Leafs would be to the Stanley Cup until… well, we’re still waiting. Now the LA Kings are gliding through their Western Conference final series once again, the closest they’ve been to the Cup themselves since 1993. It all feels a little familiar, so for Leafs fans who have the sour taste of Gretzky’s stick in their mouth, here’s who you can hope for guilt-free as a Maple Leaf fan or sympathizer.
The New York Rangers:
The Rangers come with pre-made Original Six rivalry baggage. Plus, they’ve defeated the Leafs five of eight meetings in the playoffs. But their last playoff matchup with the Leafs was in 1971 and five of the last eight were before 1950. Is it still too soon for you to love the Rangers?
The New Jersey Devils:
The Devils have only met the Leafs in the playoffs twice, once in 2000 and again in 2001. Both times were in the conference semi-finals and both series went to at least six games. There was bad blood, and there was Scott Stevens, but this still pales in comparison to the Kings-led heartbreak of ’93. These back-to-back eliminations stirred some bad blood between the Devils and Leafs, but it’s what the Devils did to the Leafs in the final regular season game in 2007 that sticks in the memory most.
The post-lockout Leafs finished the year playing the Montreal Canadiens at home with a come-from-behind win in the third period after switching out goalie Andrew Raycroft in the second period to help the Leafs determine their own destiny. Half the work was done, now all the Leafs needed was the New Jersey Devils to defeat the New York Islanders to prevent that team from leapfrogging the Leafs out of the post-season. It should have been as simple a task then as it would be now, but the Devils opted to give Martin Brodeur a rest before his playoff push and started goaltender (and future short-lived Leaf) Scott Clemmensen, who had only played 24 games in three seasons before getting just his fourth start of the year that night.
The Islanders’ Richard Park netted two goals early, giving them the lead early. The Devils made it interesting in the third period with John Madden goals to send it to overtime. OT came and went without a deciding goal so it was sent to a relatively new and highly-scrutinized form of tie breaker, the shootout. Here’s what happened:
The _______ Coyotes:
The Coyotes have made the playoffs eight of their 15 years as a franchise. In the last 15 years the Leafs have made the playoffs six times and not once have they played the Western Conference desert dogs, go figure. If there was ever a team could not even be tangentially related to the Leafs playoff disappointments of yesteryear, it is the Phoenix Coyotes. Maybe when they move to Markham next year there will be more cause for tension and angst, but for now the team with the most Canadians of any still-active in these playoffs is your guaranteed Leaf-friendly team to cheer for.
Shame about those Kings.