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Phaneuf's big night triggers hope- and some great Maple Leaf playoff memories

Many of us have wondered aloud if Dion Phaneuf would be the kind of on (and off) -ice leader the Leafs need.  In terms of his on-ice play, we all know he was not dominant in his first 12 months in blue and white, though in fairness, a serious injury slowed his efforts earlier this season.

But as we've discussed in this space for a while, his play has been generally sounder over the past while, and on a night when Reimer calmed the nerves of Leaf supporters everywhere, Phaneuf's offensive outburst against the 'Canes may have been, for fans at least, an early defining moment in his still short tenure with the Maple Leafs.

The win brought renewed hope to Leafworld, and got me thinking about the old days when it was the case more often than not that the Leafs would be in the playoffs come spring.

Here are some "playoff memories" off the top of my head, as it were.

For the record, for me, Maple Leaf hockey dates back to the late 1950s and names like Eddie Chadwick, (click on his name to read my earlier story about Eddie) the earliest recollections being from probably the 1958-’59 season when I was all of five years of age.  I don’t have crystal clear images in my mind of too many specific moments from that season, of course, but it wasn’t long after the I, like most kids, began to develop a hockey “memory bank”—one  that I’ve kept stored away for lo these many years.

One of the first vivid "playoff" memories I have is of sitting on my oldest brother John’s (we always called him Jean, coming as we did from a French-Canadian family) lap while watching on our our black and white TV as the Habs hammered the Leafs in a playoff game at the Gardens.  It was either in the spring of ’59 or ’60.  I seem to recall Bobby Baun scoring a goal from the point, but it only made the score something like 6-2 for Montreal.  But my brother, to be kind, (he was a huge Hab fan) pretended to cheer for the Leafs. (I've included a neat old photo of Baun, above, scoring a goal against Charlie Hodge in Game 6 of the 1964 semi-finals at the old Gardens.  That was a great memory, too.)

I more vividly recall watching the first game of the 1960-’61 playoffs between Toronto and the visiting Red Wings.  The Leafs were at home, having finished second to Montreal in the regular-season standings.  They were a team poised for a breakthrough and were the “favorites” against the Gordie Howe-led Red Wings.

I watched a lot of the game but because it went into overtime, my mom wanted me to get to bed (likely for school the next day—lousy excuse, as I recall) though there was rarely a real enforcement of the loose bedtime rules in my home.  (I was the youngest of five, so by then, they were just happy if I went to bed at all, I think.)

In any event, I ended up sort of half-going to bed by resting on the living room sofa, which was situated near our old high-fi/radio.  I was listening to the radio broadcast of the game when I heard (probably Foster Hewitt, now that I think about it; his son Bill was doing the TV broadcasts by then) George Armstrong  score the winner in overtime.  I was thrilled.

Unfortunately, the Red Wings won the next four games in a row, and the loss represented a step-back for GM/Coach Punch Imlach’s “program”.  The previous two seasons the Leafs had made it to the finals only to lose to the powerful Montreal Canadiens.  Losing so meekly in the first round in 1961 was, well, crappy.

But the Armstrong goal stands out as a huge early memory.


Other somewhat more recent playoff moments also spring to mind right away:

  • The night the Leafs beat Chicago in Game 5 of the Cup finals in April of 1962.  I went to Church against my will (it was Holy Thursday) but the Leafs won, so I was OK with the trade-off.  Click to read my story on that night.
  • The night Bob Pulford scored a great breakaway goal in the dying seconds in Game 1 of the ’64 Cup finals against the Wings at the Gardens. He beat Terry Sawchuk with maybe three seconds left on the game clock.  Fantastic goal, short-handed, I believe.  He blocked a shot at his own blueline and dashed the length of the ice.
  • Same series, Game 6, Bobby Baun scores his famous “broken ankle” overtime winner.  His weak shot bounced in off Red Wing defenseman Bill Gadsby- huge break.  Leafs survived to play another night.  I was listening to Game 6 on the radio because the game was blacked out where I lived (across from Detroit).
  • Same series, Game 7.  Andy Bathgate scored the first goal of the game, also on a breakaway, and the Leafs go on to win the game—and the Cup. (Andy describes that goal in my recent interview with here here.)
  • Game 4 of the 1966 semi-finals.  The Habs dominated the Leafs that series, but I travelled to Toronto to visit my future brother-in-law (where he lived with friends) so I could see the game on TV in his apartment.  A huge brawl broke out that night in the first period involving John Ferguson, Eddie Shack, Ted Harris and Orland Kurtenbach, I think it was.  Punch Imlach put on his skates and threatened to come out onto the ice because he was so ticked at the penalty calls made by the referee.
  • Game 2 of the 1967 semi-finals in Chicago.  Hawks were strong, Leafs were a middle of the pack team.  Chicago waxed the Leafs in Game 1 in Chicago, but in the second game, Dave Keon scored a beautiful (short-handed, I think) break-away goal to set the tone.  Leafs won a close game and went on to take the series in six games.
  • Game 3 of the ’67 finals against the Habs.  Pulford scored in the second overtime to win it.  I was listening from my bedroom, because my Dad (a passionate Montreal supporter) and I could not be in the same room.  He had seniority so he got the television.
  • The dying seconds of Game 6 in that series, just before Armstrong scored into the empty net.  I still get nervous when I see the game film.
  • The awful 10-0 game 1 in Boston of the 1969 series against the Bruins.  Poor Bruce Gamble was in goal.  Leafs were small and intimidated and Boston just walked all over them in the first two games— total of 17 goals to none.
  • The big Pat Quinn hit on Bobby Orr in Game 1 of that series.  To me, a legal hit.  (Shoulder, upper arm.  Elbow came up at the end of the hit on the follow-through only.  That’s my belief and I’ve stayed with it for forty years.)
  • The following season, 1969-’70, Quinn hammered Orr again in open ice, in a mid-season game at the Gardens but no deal was made of it.  Just part of the game.  That was the night Orr supposedly “scored” twice on his own net.  The newspapers made a big deal out of it. (Click here to read my story.)
  • Paul Henderson missing on a breakaway in Game 4 of the 1972 series against the “Big Bad Bruins”.  Leafs were ahead 4-2 in that game at the Gardens.  If he had scored, the Leafs likely go on to tie the series at 2.  He missed.  The Bruins come back and win the game and then the series in 5.  That hurt.
  • Doug Favell’s performance in Game 1 of the 1974 playoffs in Boston.  Out of his mind good.  Leafs lost 1-0.
  • The night I was at the Gardens when Sittler scored 10 points against Cherry and the Bruins in early 1976.  (I know, everyone says they were there.  But I was there the next night, too, a  rare Sunday night game at the Gardens.) OK, not a playoff memory but I thought I'd sneak it in.
  • Lanny McDonald’s OT winner in Game 7 against the favored Islanders in the spring of 1978.  That was a horn-honking night for us young Leaf fans.  (I was up in Sault Ste. Marie at the time, watching with a buddy.  Great night.)
  • Gaston Gingras scoring from center ice in a playoff game (against Minnesota?) in the early ‘80s
  • Walt Podubny scoring a great goal to ice Game 6 in the mid-‘80s series against the Blues.  (Leafs unfortunately lost game 7 in St. Louis.)
  • Mike Allison’s OT winner against the Red Wings to gave the Leafs a 3-1 lead in a series they would end up losing in 7 games (’87?)
  • The Borschevsky OT winner against the same Red Wings in ’93, the night my love for the blue and white was rejuvenated after almost 15 years of on-again, off-again misery.

There are other, more recent memories, of course, but the point of this exercise, in part, is that we all have great Leaf memories.  Whether we are 16 or 60, Leaf fans have had plenty of great moments to treasure, regardless not having won a Cup for, well, a while.

1 comment:

  1. Your last one - the Borchevsky winner - reminded me of how I heard it. I had to run an unavoidable errand during the overtime. I was outside, running to the store, wondering what was happening. I could hear the game through open windows in houses along the street. Suddenly I heard people cheering through all of them... and I knew we'd won.