Ladies and gents, I’d love to tell you about how great the Bruins were in coming back from a 4-2 lead to win in overtime. I’d love to tell you how I’m proud of how my Leafs proved me wrong and took this series to a Game 7. But I can’t. Real life means I can’t arbitrarily call in sick midway through my work day to watch a hockey game, so I can’t break down what happened to the Leafs or why. Instead I’ll tell you about how great today was from a hockey fan’s perspective.
For me, it began as soon as I woke up. I work from home, and I didn’t want to be like a mushroom and rely on text messages from Zeb to tell me what was going on. What did I do? I spent about an hour or so moving all the furniture around in my living room so my computer desk faced the big screen television. I didn’t care whether or not I’d actually get to watch the game since Mondays are the busiest work days for me. I wanted to experience it, even if it were only a few seconds every ten minutes or so.
This Game 7 was unlike any other for one specific reason. The only thing hotter than James Reimer in goal was the weather. By the time my work day started, it was 102 degrees and the thermometer was still in triple digits by the time the puck dropped. I can honestly say I was one of the few Leafs fans that watched the game in a heat wave.
I glanced up every so often to see what was going on, but I missed a lot of the game. I knew when each team scored, and I got to see Phil Kessel score to make it 3-1, but I have no idea who did what without looking at the box score. But from the bits and pieces I saw I remember why I fell in love with this game as a kid. I loved how each team took chances. They rushed the puck from one end of the rink to another at a pace I haven’t seen since I watched Smythe Division hockey games in the early to mid-80s. There was no neutral zone trap to cut down scoring chances. There was no clutching and grabbing to slow down puck carriers. It was “Here I come, whatcha going to do about it?” hockey and while I sat in my cushy computer chair I only needed the edge.
The best part of the night? You won’t believe me but I’ll tell you. With about five minutes left in the game, Zeb texted me to congratulate me on the Leafs winning the game. I texted back, “Thanks but it ain’t over yet.”
Boy, was this one time I wish I were wrong.
Am I sad over this loss? No. I expected the Leafs to lose in six games because hardly anyone on the roster has ever played hockey past the first weekend in April. But the team surprised me. They got their butts kicked in Game 1, but once they realized what kind of effort it takes to win playoff games they went back to work. They lost a heartbreaker in Game 4, yet they came back and took the next two games to put the Bruins on the ropes. They almost pulled off the upset, but in the end their inexperience caught up to them.
There’s a lot to be hopeful for next year, such as:
- Phil Kessel is no longer scared of the Big, Bad Bruins. For the past four years, I wondered if it would have been best to make Kessel a healthy scratch against his old team. He scored four goals this series, and even had one Canadian sports writer on my Twitter feed joke that Claude Julien needs to get Zdeno Chara away from all those matchups against Kessel.
- James Reimer is the unquestioned #1 goalie in Toronto. His performance should shut down any rumors of Roberto Luongo or anyone else being traded to the Leafs this summer.
- Cody Franson showed he can be a reliable defenseman. When he arrived from Nashville, he was considered a power play specialist and a defensive liability. Now he’s a legit top four defenseman that doesn’t make you cringe whenever the puck is in his end.
- Jake Gardiner is all that and then some. I would not be shocked if he won a Norris Trophy in the next five years. Once he gets more NHL experience, it will be scary to see how good the Leafs can be in their transition game.
- Nazem Kadri has what it takes to be a #1 center in the NHL, but he needs more experience and consistency. There is no way Leafs should pay Tyler “Blackface” Bozak $8 million a year to be the default #1 guy in the middle, and it’s obvious Mikhail Grabovski is not the answer. Someone has to step up, and that someone is Kadri.
I’m proud of these guys. I know this loss hurts, but I hope when they wake up tomorrow they realize they did the best they could with the team they had – and the Canadiens had a four-day head start to sharpen up their golf game!