Toronto Maple Leafs
It was 53 years ago today #5 Bill Barilko scored the goal. It was April 21st, 1951, game 5 of the Stanley Cup final between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Montreal Canadiens. At the 2:53 mark of the first overtime period, Bill Barilko scored the last goal of his life winning the Stanley Cup for the Leafs. The 24 year old defenseman perished in a light plane crash that summer while on a fishing trip to Northern Ontario. Not until his body was recovered 11 years later in the bush near Cochrane, Ontario, did the Leafs win another championship. If you've never seen my tribute to Bill Barilko, today is the day to do it.
Throughout the first round of this year's playoffs, Leaf players have been wearing a blue cap with BB16 embroidered on the front. The "BB" is to invoke the spirit of Bill Barilko while 16 represents the number of games a team must win in order to capture Lord Stanley's Mug. A fellow Leaf fan's site adorns a graphic nicely counting down our wins to the magic number 16.
Only 12 to go...
I would like to bottle this euphoric feeling I have right now in order to preserve it for moments in the future I'm feeling less joyous. What a fantastic night. For the fourth time in five years, the Ottawa Senators are going home early from the Stanley Cup playoffs thanks to my beloved Maple Leafs. Ottawa is 0-4 in series against Toronto and 0-4 in Game 7s overall.
Lest we forget Daniel Alfredsson's promise to win this series tonight at the ACC. Alfredsson, like the rest of his teammates, were all but invisible tonight. They have proven time and time again that they aren't built for the playoffs and can't win when it matters most. At the trade deadline, there was much speculation the Senators would upgrade between the pipes as Patrick Lalime was showing himself to be rather inconsistent. Staying with Lalime would prove to be their downfall. Tonight, in the most important game of the season, Lalime was horrible while Maple Leaf goaltender Eddie Belfour shone bright. Belfour was brilliant throughout the series and is the biggest reason I'm sitting here right now with a huge smile on my face.
Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie! Eddie!
Toronto wins series 4-3
Since the best-of-seven format was introduced in 1939, the Maple Leafs have played in 20 Game Sevens. The Leafs have a record of 11-9, 5-8 on the road and 6-1 at home. That's right, we're 6-1 at home in Game Sevens. Tonight, at the ACC, the Leafs and Senators play a Game Seven.
Is there anything in sports as stressful as a Game Seven? Every mistake, every play, every moment is that much more maginified. One team will advance, one team will be finished for the season.
I'll never forget the Game Seven between the Leafs and Red Wings back in 1993. This game went to overtime. A Game Seven that goes to overtime is the ultimate heart stopper. The name Nikolai Borschevsky will forever arouse positive feelings in Leaf fans thanks to his overtime winner eleven years ago.
The spirit of Nikolai Borschevsky will be with us tonight. Go Leafs Go!
Damn. I wanted to win in six. Now we have to win in seven. At least it will be in front of the home crowd. Seriously though, I'm sure this is how it was scripted. Mats Sundin triumphantly returns to lead the blue and white into the next round of the playoffs.
Series tied 3-3
There was a frenetic pace to that first overtime period. Both sides had an opportunity to end it, both sides failed to do so. Period #5 awaits.
Call me crazy, but Tie Domi looks as likely to end this thing as anyone. I'm hoping I'm right.
Sudden. Death. Overtime.
Who will be the hero? Gary Roberts? Joe Nieuwendyk? Alexander Mogilny?
Anyone but Daniel Alfredsson, please Lord. Anyone but him...
It's clinching night. If my beloved Maple Leafs defeat the Sens tonight at the Corel Centre, we're on to the second round. We're about 90 minutes from game time and I feel like I'm playing tonight. I'm anxious, hopeful and more than a little nervous. I really want to wrap this thing up in six to give our guys a little breather before round #2.
History is on our side. Here are the results from the previous 4 elimination games between the two clubs:
2000: East CQF, Game #6, Toronto 4, Ottawa 2, Leafs win series in 6 games
2001: East CQF, Game #4, Toronto 3, Ottawa 1, Leafs win series in 4 games
2002: East CSF, Game #6, Toronto 4, Ottawa 3, Leafs force Game #7
2002: East CSF, Game #7, Toronto 3, Ottawa 0, Leafs win series in 7 games
While we're talking Leafs here, I received an email from a gentleman named Drew who lives in British Columbia. His team is not the Canucks but the Maple Leafs. In his email to me, he shared his letter to God he wrote following our game four loss. I've pasted it below.
Hope you are well. I have a selfish request to ask of you. I was wondering if I could better learn from you how to conduct ones daily struggles if perhaps you could stop teaching me life's lessons by gouging the eyes out of Toronto Maple Leafs hockey players. It would also be nice in my humble opinion, if you could stop breaking the legs on the Leafs players. I must admit, I personally think it is revolting and I can't possibly see how such acts must occur. If there is something you are trying to tell us; please save us from ourselves tell us (especially me) in an easier way so we'll all understand what you expect from us.
One of your finest creations the immortal leafs is now locked in mortal combat with a boorish team with gaudy jerseys. As you well know it's been a VERY long time since you have blessed our team with the cup. I'm sure God you found it very gratifying to keep the Leafs and the Habs away from each other again in this playoff series. I was so hoping to see the Montreal - Toronto match but you said no. So be it. Would it be selfish to allow our team to defeat the Senators in this years playoffs? After all we have trounced them usually very well in the regular season; it's expected. Please God make 1/3 of the country happy. I thank you for your attention.
Drew's letter to God reminded me of a letter I wrote to the Big Guy Upstairs in March 2003. You can read my letter here.
Go Leafs Go!
All three Maple Leaf victories in this series have been 2-0 Eddie Belfour shut outs despite the fact the Senators have actually out shot us 155-100 in the series.
Daniel Alfredsson has guaranteed his team will force and win a game seven in this series. Stop writing cheques your butt can't cash Alfie! I'm sticking with my prediction of Leafs in six.
Toronto leads series 3-2
It's a simple law of physics. What goes up, must come down. Tonight, Eddie Belfour and his Maple Leafs crashed back to earth when the Senators gave it to us good.
Two big question marks causing concern for the future are last game's scorers Joe Nieuwendyk and Mats Sundin. Nieuwendyk was a surprise scratch from tonight's game and Sundin limped off the ice after falling awkwardly feet first into the boards.
Nobody said this would be easy.
Series tied 2-2
Awesome. Eddie Belfour is playing awesome. The Maple Leafs shut out the Senators for the second straight game thanks to a goal by Joe Nieuwendyk and a stunning insurance marker by Mats Sundin.
This has to be getting in the heads of the Senator players. They simply can't beat Belfour right now. He's seeing everything. He's firmly entrenched in the zone. This is playoff hockey at it's best. I can't wait for Wednesday night.
Maple Leafs lead series 2-1
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