The Toronto Maple Leafs will be facing the Boston Bruins in the upcoming first round of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. This is, of course not the first time these teams have faced each other in the playoffs. Being two Original Six teams, they have faced off plenty of times in the history of the NHL. Some of these losses, undoubtedly, were harder pills to swallow than others.
It is important to frame this series with context. The history here is crucial to show how much this series matters before it begins. This is the perfect time to resurface some painful memories, talk about how much has changed since then, and set up the final exorcism of these demons.
It was Forty-One (’41)
In the 1941 NHL playoffs, Bill Cowley’s Boston Bruins won the Stanley Cup after defeating Syl Apps’ Toronto Maple Leafs in the semi-finals. It was a seven game series, in which the Bruins clawed back after being down 3-2 in the series to win. Game 7 saw 1st period goals by Boston’s Flash Hollett (!) and Toronto’s Bucko McDonald (!!!!) just one minute apart. However, it was Mel “Sudden Death” Hill, a future member of the Leafs, who would score late in the 3rd to give Boston an emotional win.
The loss would have certainly stung for the Leafs of those days, who hadn’t won the Cup in that 6-team NHL since the 1932 season, 9 years prior.
Despite the continued frustrations for the Maple Leafs, they took that punch in the gut and rose higher than they ever had before. In fact, higher than any team had before. The re-surging Leafs took off running with the next few seasons, winning 6 Stanley Cups in 10 years, giving them the lead in NHL Stanley Cups for the time being.
It was 4-1
Of course, the history everyone had on their minds to start was not 1941, it was 2013. We all know the story, I’m sure.
The Leafs, a Cinderella-storied team who had no business playing in the playoffs, were surely going to get rolled over, swept, demolished, what have you, by the big, bad, Bruins. Except everyone’s hopes had turned when the Leafs, previously down 3-1 in the series, took things to Game 7. Hopes climbed even higher when the Leafs took a 2-1 lead into the 3rd period. Those hopes climaxed when they led 4 goals to 1 with just 10 minutes left in the 3rd period…
However, like the metaphorical 18-wheeler when it meets its cliff, the descent began its acceleration. The Bruins scored once…. twice… and a third time in the final minute, sending the game to overtime. And from there, the reverse Cinderella story found its perfect ending with the Bruins winning the game.
They say time heals all wounds, but I’m still not sure I’ve fully recovered from the events of the 2013 Stanley Cup playoffs. This is one of those “Where were you when…?” moments for me — I distinctly remember sitting alone in my apartment. I had made the mistake of staying in Kingston for the summer to work, while all of my university friends had left go back to their respective hometowns. So there I was, with a beer in my hand, watching in awe as this thing fell apart. I turned my television off and I just sat, in silence, trying to process what had just happened.
So I’ll ask: where were you?
It’s funny – the Leafs have change tremendously in the five years since that series. In fact, there’s only five players still playing for the Leafs from those days. Those would be:
- Tyler Bozak
- Nazem Kadri
- Leo Komarov
- Jake Gardiner
- James Van Riemsdyk
The funnier part is that these five players are some of the few players from that team that are still in the NHL. Of the players that played in that series, 12 of them have either been shut down permanently due to injury (i.e. MacArthur, Lupul, and Grabovski) or simply fell out of the league over time.
Time is a funny thing itself. Seven of the current Leafs players weren’t even yet eligible to be drafted when this series had begun. Most of those by several years.
The Leafs reached a historic mark in both wins and points this season. This is not the 2013 team that scraped in because the season was short and incredible shooting luck hadn’t had a chance to catch up yet.
Come and Be Conquered, Ye Evil Demon
Excuse my attempt to be epic, but this series really is a huge opportunity to get a monkey off the back of this franchise. Despite this being an almost completely brand new incarnation of the team as shown above, the memories of that 7-game playoff series between Boston and Toronto still are held in the backs of minds of many in Maple Leafs Nation. While I’m sure it won’t affect the players, it still affects me from time to time. As great as Patrice Bergeron is, I still can’t look at him the same way since scoring the Game 7 winner. My heart is still broken when I think about James Reimer laying down on the ice in pure, emotional defeat. And of course, there’s Brad Marchand.
The cool thing is the Leafs already knocked the “It was 4-1” demon away. From last year’s season series with the Bruins:
Leafs season series vs Bruins
G1: 4-1 lead, win
G2: 4-1 lead, win
G3: 4-1 lead, win
G4: 4-1 lead, win
These Leafs aren't those Leafs.
— Jeff Veillette (@JeffVeillette) March 21, 2017
Yet, something evil still clings onto this team and only defeating the Bruins in a playoff series can truly conquer that. Later today, our own Scott Maxwell will tackle exactly how the Leafs can do that. Until then, just take a second and salivate over how sweet this series win will be. How delicious the revenge will taste. How succulent the victory… can you tell I’m writing this while waiting for my dinner to finish? Anyway, it’s going to be so much fun to demolish the Bruins and send them “shipping” back to their troll caves.
Good day, and go Leafs.