A year ago today, Leafs fans were buzzing.
The long-forlorn Buds had solidified their position in last place, and, while the league’s top 16 had their hearts and eyes set on Lord Stanley, Leafs Nation – from the front office down to the hapless and hopeful fan – were alternating between daydreams of an eighteen-year-old kid from the desert and night terrors of yet another Edmonton Oiler lottery win.
So it was written that the daydreams became reality, and the kid from the desert did land on the frozen tundra of Toronto.
Fast forward a year and bring your inhaler, your heart pills, and whatever cocktail of uppers and downers you require to stay cool in the face of complete and utter pandemonium.
The Toronto Maple Leafs have the world beating Washington Capitals in round 1 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, and they’re tied coming back to Toronto at one game a piece.
Here are some things we’ve learned through the first two tilts between David and Goliath:
These guys like foreplay
60 minutes isn’t enough to curl the toes of either team. There’s been almost an entire game of overtime played through the first two games, and, if not for Tom Wilson channeling the American Sniper or Brian Boyle resurrecting Christ Jesus a day early, it seems as though these guys are willing to keep the pedal on the floor long after the needle hits E.
Frederik Andersen is the most underrated player on the Leafs roster
In the first two games of the series, Andersen has held a Washington team who scored over 3 goals per game in the regular season to an even 3. He’s got 5 defensemen in front of him and two of them are Martin Marincin and Matt Hunwick. Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and TJ Oshie shared 89 goals in the regular season and have 2 between them in the postseason.
Nazem Kadri is the youngest player on the team
Yeah, I know he’s not the youngest player on the team, but you wouldn’t know that if you were watching the team for the first time. You have Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, Kasperi Kapanen, Morgan Rielly, Connor Brown, Connor Carrick, and Zach Hyman who combine to be 5 years younger than the Florida Panthers’ Jaromir Jagr. And yet, none of these kids have the problem that Kadri has. The one where “he hit me first” is the prevailing reason for why he’s cross checking a Capitals’ neck in his own end during a close game 2. But he’s a 30-goal scorer this year and he calls people a pussy better than anyone I’ve ever seen so I don’t mind if he acts like a twelve year old junkyard kid as a trade off.
If the pain is coming, then this season is the best opiate we could hope for
One of the very first things Mike Babcock said after the Leafs’ front office hooked him through the cheek flesh and inked him to the most savage deal a hockey coach has ever had his name on, was that the pain was coming. And, as I’d expect from a guy padding his pockets at twice the rate of his contemporaries, Babs was true to his word. Except that he wasn’t really, was he? The last-place finish from last season was only as painful as the head rush we all got standing up after having no choice but to put away twenty beers to get through each game. There was no Mitch Marner, no Auston Matthews, no Wil Ny the Hockey Guy, no Frederik Andersen. It was the team’s birthright to finish in the basement that season, and it was fulfilled to the satisfaction of most fans who’d been keeping tabs on the the ZSC Lions – professional hockey of the Swiss persuasion – during the season. There really wasn’t a whole lot of pain. And there hasn’t been since (disclaimer: unless you’re Roman Polak… he… he felt some pain). We’re knotted up in the first round with, I’ll say it again, the best hockey club in the NHL, and we’re coming back to Toronto on the back of a seemingly herculean postseason effort by Kasperi Kapanen. If this is pain, then baby, hit me again.
It’s approximately an hour until the start of game 3. I’ve been fully torqued since Saturday and, while I didn’t take any Viagra, I have half a mind to call their helpline anyway. See you all on the other side – there’s a Blue calling me from the fridge.