Johnson: Leafs Nation should stop planning the parade after one win
Embarrassing overreaction by the Mother Corp after Toronto skates to first playoff win in years
Judging by the fuss, you’d think man just trod foot on the lunar surface or Reese Witherspoon had been pulled over by a cop.
Saturday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs marched right into the cauldron that is TD Garden, Chara’s lair, inside the very gates of Mordor itself, and smote those Big Bad Bruins. Beat ’em at their own Rock ’Em Sock ’Em Robots game. Looked Milan Lucic squarely in his crooked, beady-eyed kisser and refused to back down.
The Big Smoke is all a-tizzy. Agog, in fact.
Yes, one first-round win is already invoking warm, wistful memories of Bobby Baun’s busted pin, Johnny Bower’s craggy, mask-less visage, crewcut Davey Keon’s straight stick and Punch Imlach’s loosened tie and worn fedora.
Takes four to claim a series, last time anyone did the math. Sixteen to lift a Cup (something that hasn’t happened down in that part of the country since, well, that’s been documented to death ...). And yes, every team’s got to start somewhere every spring, using that first blush of success as a launch pad to greater glories.
But, well. Really.
This is the kind of wildly outsized over-reaction that only one lonely playoff game victory in eight springtime seasons (Memo to Calgary Flames’ partisans: Please take note for future reference) can inspire. Not that the ensuing tumult is at all unexpected. Quite the contrary.
The smell of desperation, like a gas leak, has been hanging in the air out east there, unmistakable, since Lester B. Pearson was winding up his time in office.
Only two games, one win into a series that must be literally tearing Don Cherry in half, and Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul have already taken their places beside Harry and Jenny Shopsowitz, founders of Shopsy’s Deli, in the pantheon of Toronto immortals. Feisty Colton Orr’s dropping skyscraper-sized Zdeno Chara was instantly writ down in local mythology. For his adroit manoeuvering between the Game 1 loss and Saturday’s retribution, coach Randy Carlyle’s cunning tactical acumen has been likened to Bobby Fischer’s. Right now, today, goaltender James Reimer could run for mayor and, well, considering the mayor of Toronto is Rob Ford, he’d have a legitimate shot.
Today, anyway. Check back after Game 3.
The Mother Corp. is, naturally, giving this out-of-the-ordinary event a proper amount of reverence. Given the exhaustive amount of HNIC airtime given Kessel’s game of peek-a-boo hide-and-seek with Chara on Saturday, you’d think a panicked Al Arbour or Scotty Bowman was frantically plotting to get a checking centre out on the ice to try to stifle Gretzky.
Then again, this is Toronto, these are the Leafs, and, well, it has been a while.
Even prior to puck-drop, the very prospect of the mighty Maple actually participating in the post-season had ignited wild flights of fancy. A Yahoo Sports! poll wondered whether this might not, indeed, be the moment to end the notorious 45-year championship hex. Lordamighty, the Cup?!!!! Baby steps, please. That seems a bit of a stretch for a team that’s habitually packed up and off to Canada’s Wonderland by now.
But such is the sustainability, the clinging power, of dreams.
There are actually other series going on at the moment. Compelling ones, too. Blues vs. Kings is shaping up as a lockdown, low-scoring, bruising affair between two teams perfectly suited for the tortuous trek down four taxing playoff roads. Caps vs. Rangers has Ovie’s gap-toothed grin and Tortorella’s sardonic smirk to recommend it. The flattering-to-deceive Canucks were the verge of implosion heading back to San Jose, those don’t-know-their-place Islanders were making the lives of Sid, Malkin and Jarome far more complicated than they ever could’ve imagined, and the Ottawa-Habs debate, fuelled by Eric Gryba’s debilitating open-ice hit on Lars Eller, already has a nice, nasty edge going.
From now until whenever they’re put to bed, though, the Leafs, be you worshipper or agnostic, are bound to be the subject of sermon every other day. Anywhere you may happen to turn.
The Air Canada Centre is sure to be certifiably bonkers Monday night as the series shifts north. And heaven knows after seven years of no playoffs and 45 of not so much as a losing Stanley Cup final appearance to console them, the most loyal (masochistic?) diehards in hockey, arguably in the entirety of sport, have every right to to cut loose and yowl. They’ve more than paid for the privilege, both fiscally and emotionally.
To their team’s credit, the Leafs more than matched the Big Bad Bruins right in Chara’s lair on Saturday and fully deserved to tie the series, 1-1. And good on ’em.
But that’s it. One win. Nothing more.
Takes four for a series, 16 to lift a Cup, last time anyone did the math.
Judging by the fuss, though, you’d think Apple started selling its newest next-gen iPhone or Marilyn Monroe had just breathlessly sung Happy Birthday to JFK.
The Toronto Maple Leafs won a playoff game! Yes, an actual playoff game!
Heaven help the non-devout out there if they somehow happen to win a series.
George Johnson is the Herald’s sports columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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