I have precious little new to say today. The Leafs have played one rather unflattering game since the Olympic shutdown, so we don’t have a lot of assessing to do just yet. But with the Habs hosting us for an old-time Saturday "Hockey Night" game, this would be a good time for the blue and white to show their mettle as they really kick off their run to the regular season finish line.
Most of us would agree that there are still things this team needs to work on (the “list” has been discussed here for some time), but as best we on the outside can observe, they are indeed working every day to try and fix the holes in their game. There is no lack of effort, I don’t believe. And while there are still times when we shake our heads and wonder how they have managed to survive games on occasion (and with a victory at that), who can argue with the results since the end of January?
At the risk of repeating myself, the Eastern Conference is open for business. Did anyone see the Penguins Thursday night, giving up, what, 6 goals? There is no perfect team out there. The Bruins gave up a late lead and lost to the Sabres the other night. Yes, those are just regular-season games in a long, tiring NHL schedule, but my point is: no team in our Conference is unbeatable, and that includes in a playoff series.
I’ll add one thing to provide some historical context: while Leafs/Habs is a great old rivalry, it’s only in relatively recent times that they have played so often on a Saturday night. When I was growing up a Leaf enthusiast in a household of, ugh, ardent Montreal supporters in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Montreal and Toronto played 14 times a season. But they almost never played on a Saturday night against each other. They essentially played exclusively on Wednesday and Thursday nights—all mid-week games. (In fact, I missed a lot of Toronto-Montreal matchups in those days because where we lived, in southwestern Ontario right across from Detroit, we did not have a CTV affiliate. So when those mid-week Leaf games (against Montreal or anyone else) were shown on CFTO in the Toronto viewing area, we never got those games back then. I could listen (if we could get the signal) on French-language radio on occasion, or wait for sports updates on the local radio station. I’d often have to wait until the morning paper, usually the Detroit Free Press which we had delivered), to see the summary and read a few of the game details. Only then would I know if I could head off to school happy- or frustrated.
It was a big deal when a nearby Detroit radio station started doing a regular sports show in the late ‘60s, I think it was. Every night the host would provide scoring updates for NHL and NBA games. I’ll always remember that on one occasion, a host somehow mispronounced Dave Keon’s name. He clearly was not a hockey guy.
In truth, Leaf-Hab games back then weren’t always great games, just like a lot of today's Toronto-Montreal showdowns aren’t anything out of the ordinary. But many were in the good old days, and the rivalry was real—not trumped up as it sometimes feel nowadays. When Beliveau, Richard and Backstrom went head to head with Kelly, Keon and Pulford, you were witnessing some of the best centers in the game matching up fourteen times a season, year after year. The emotion—and the intense hatred—on the part of the players and fans was real.
For today’s Leaf fans, the rivalry is still strong, just different. I don’t know about you, but whether it’s about where both clubs are in the standings or our longstanding rivalry, I’m ready for a classic on Saturday night. I know we are all harping on the Leafs playing better in their own zone (and rightfully so), but I’d love to see some fire-wagon hockey, with some big hits, tenacious checking and old-fashioned offense.