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Saturday showdown: Soon-to-be-sold MLSE Leafs over the Pegula Sabres

Vintage Leaf Memories continues to offer a mix of stories and personal recollections from the "old days" (late 1950s, '60 and '70s) with current commentary on the Maple Leafs.  I enjoy the feedback I receive at  and from those who post comments here.  I would be interested in hearing from readers whether they prefer more of a focus on the olden days, the present-day Leafs, or the mix I try to provide now.  Do you have a preference?

I would look forward to your feedback.


The Sabres have been on a roll since Terry Pegula purchased the team.  Interestingly, the Teachers Pension Plan announced Saturday they are prepared to sell their majority share in MLSE.  So Saturday night, it was the Pegula-inspired Sabres against the up-for-grabs and in-need-of-a-win Leafs.


The one thing I wanted to concentrate on Saturday night was how the Leafs performed playing a meaningful, late-season game, from an individual and team perspective. We've seen this team for the past five seasons go on a late-season spurt but by and large they were never really playing against 'must win' pressure.  They looked good when it kind of didn't really matter.

Now, however, they actually have placed themselves in a position where they are in the hunt.  They have virtually no injuries.  It matters whether they play well or not.

So I wanted to see how some of the guys we have talked about all season-- Kessel, Schenn, Phaneuf, Kulemin, MacArthur, Grabovski-- would perform when it really mattered.

For me it wasn't just about urgency, intensity or desperation.  I expect pros to play hard way more often than not.  But it's important to see how guys play under late-season pressure.

So, how did they fare?

Just fine.

Phaneuf was among those who led the way.  Physical but smart. Some great passes.  Kessel had some jump in his step a good part of the night and had a particularly inspired shift that led to the Bozak marker and then netted the winning goal in the third period.  Grabbo went to the net to screen Miller on the first Toronto goal and scored the pivotal 3-3 goal.  Kulemin back checked hard all night.  (I love the subtle little move he made in the dying seconds to get control of the puck inside the Leaf blue line to clear the puck.)   Mike Brown battled.  Reimer made his biggest stops once the Leafs had the late lead.

One game, but an encouraging one.

The Leafs are a young team and should only get better, especially as Burke continues to tweak the roster.  They have a core of young, capable defensemen already, which is a hard commodity to find.

You know what the reality is that the Leaf team is facing, though?  As the 'post-lockout' era settles in, the NHL is all about parity.  Every team is young.  Every team has speed and third and fourth-line grinders that are hard to play against.  Most teams have a good young goalie.

This appears to be the way the league is going.  (It's not just the Leafs who are improving.  The Islanders are getting better after years in the wilderness.  So is Atlanta.  Florida, too.)  Regular season games are close for the most part.  This means lots of overtime and three-point games.  Teams play such a close, hard-checking style most nights, it's difficult to maintain that pace successfuly for 82 games.  That's why we are seeing teams go through these mini-swoons where they can't buy a victory and then rebound with a streak where they don't lose.

Since the All-Star break, the Leafs have been as good as anybody in the East, with apologies to the New Jersey Devils.  Right now, it looks like Carolina is struggling and can be passed, but that too could change very quickly.

That's why it's impossible to predict where this will go.  Everybody is playing to the max.


As Vintage Leaf Memories continues to build an audience, it's maybe helpful on occasion to provide links to some earlier posts and stories that readers might have missed.  Here's a short selection: (click on the highlighted name to see the original story)

*the great battles between Lanny McDonald and Bob Gainey in the 1970s
*how Phil Kessel reminds me of flashy '60s Maple Leaf Mike Walton
*1962 Cup hero Don Simmons , a forgotten hero
*the "Big M" trade of the spring of '68
*why Hall-of-Famer Dick Duff should always have remained a Leaf
*the night Dave Keon scored a hat trick against the Habs in the 1964 semi-finals (Game 7)
*the talented and ever-irritating Ian Turnbull
* a story on Ron Wilson and his father Larry, a minor league legend, and uncle Johnny, who also played for the Maple Leafs
*a story on the only NHL goal one-time Leaf prospect Les Kozak (later injured) ever scored
*a piece on whether the Grabbo we have seen this season is real or not
*the Leafs haven't always been lousy, a look back at the Leafs post '67
*the greatest late-season (non-playoff) Maple Leaf comeback ever

Also, more recent columns on how we can now call it the "Aulie trade" and why Tim Brent should win the not-often-awarded Bickell Trophy.

Again, I always enjoy hearing from readers.  Thanks for your comments.

1 comment:

  1. I'm still new to your site so there's still plenty for me to read and check out! I think a mix would be perfect, or even more of a slant to the "olden days," just because we've got such a saturated market for the current Leafs team right now. I wouldn't be sure where else to go to read up on the past generations of teams.

    Great article, as usual! I'll check out the other links.:)