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Are the Bruins done like dinner? Just like "Tiger" and the Leafs in 1977

I’ve long thought that we fans sometimes get too amped up about the first game of the playoffs, even the first two games, in terms of deciding who is going to win and who is playing well, etc. (For the record, I’ve always thought Game 4 was a harbinger of how a tight series might go, more than what we see in the first couple of games...)  The current Ranger-Caps series is a bit of an example.  Too many folks were writing off the rangers after the first two games.  But we need to see everyobody play at home and on the road before we can, with some degree of confidence, comment on how things might turn out.

And even then, we never really know.

I guess I feel this way, in part, because I’ve seen too many times when a series changes, the momentum suddenly shifts and things suddenly are way different than they looked in the first game or two.

I can cite, off the top of my head, a few instances where excitement—and assumptions made—about the first couple of games of a playoff series turned out to be just flat out wrong.

Back in 1966 the Red Wings (I was so cheering for the Wings, because I couldn’t stand Montreal), behind Roger Crozier, a young acrobatic left-handed goalie, absolutely stoned Montreal in the first two games  of the Stanley Cup finals.  The Habs couldn’t solve Crozier (see the great old game-action photo of Crozier and Montreal's Yvan Cournoyer at right), and to add insult to injury, the Wings had captured the first two games of the series right at the Forum in Montreal.  I mean, that was absolutely un-heard of in those days, given how strong those Montreal teams always were.

Surely, observers of the time felt,  the Wings would be able to win just two more games, since they had three home game scheduled out of the next four in the series.

I remember it like it was yesterday.  The teams had four days off, I believe it was, because of scheduling for U.S. television (believe it or not) between games.  Detroit coach Sid Abel took the Wings to Toledo, Ohio to relax and go to the race track—get away from hockey for a few days, he figured.

By the time the series re-convened, the Wings, even though they were at home, came out flat and Montreal came out flying.  Throw in an injury to Crozier, and before you knew it, Montreal had won four straight (Henri Richard scored a fluke goal to win Game 6 in overtime) and the Red Wings didn’t know what just happened.

More recently, in the spring of 1993, we all remember that the Red Wings just hammered the Leafs in the first two game of their quarter-final series.  There were a lot of words directed at Wendel Clark (by Red Wing players, not to mention Leaf fans) after Game two, about how 'soft' he had played in Detroit in the opening two games. 

The rest of that series is etched in blue and white history.  Clark hammered most of the Red Wings he saw the rest of that series and the Leafs won four out of the next five to win the epic series in 7 on that memorable Borschesvky overtime tip-in.

But my favorite (actually, one of my more depressing hockey/Leaf memories) example of why I try not to jump to quick conclusions in the playoffs goes back in 1977.  The Leafs were playing the Flyers for the third season in a row in the playoffs. 

To provide some context, in 1975 the "Broad Street Bullies" were in their prime and the Leafs just couldn’t handle them.  Toronto lost in four straight.

In 1976, with Darryl Sittler leading the way and a young team just beginning to emerge, (including Lanny McDonald who really blossomed that year) they took the rugged Flyers to 7 games.

Then, in 1977, (you can click on the year to read more about that great series) an even better Leaf team shocked the Flyers, and the hockey world, by grabbing the first two-games of the series against the Flyers right in the Spectrum in Philadelphia.

It was a tremendous moment for the Leafs—and to be a Leaf fan.

It felt like maybe, just maybe, we were about to exorcise years of playoff futility (little did we know at the time just what futility could mean in Leafland), and having been knocked around by the Flyers for the past few years, including in the playoffs.

But here is what happened:  moments after Game 2 ended, the one and only Dave “Tiger” Williams (you had to love the Tiger…) was interviewed in the corridor in the corner of the Spectrum on live TV.

When asked about the Flyers, the tough Leaf winger said, matter of factly:  “They’re done like dinner”.

Oh well.  It’s good to be confident, I suppose.

I was at Game 3 at Maple Leaf Gardens.  The Leafs had a 2-0 lead after one period and I remember that Bill Barber, the fine winger of the Flyers, was interviewed in between periods on Hockey Night in Canada.  Barber looked like he had no idea what was going on.  He was stunned.  The Leafs were in control, it seemed- and he knew it

But the Flyers chipped away, came back and tied the game.  Errol Thompson put the Leafs ahead 3-2 late in the game on a backhander, but Borje Salming couldn’t clear the puck in the dying seconds and Bobby Clarke either scored or set up the tying goal, I can’t remember.

The Flyers won Game 3 in OT, and did exactly the same in Game 4.  A late goal to tie, and they won it in OT.

The Leafs were done….like dinner.  Flyers won the series in 6.

I have no idea if the Bruins will be able to bounce back in this series, but here’s my guess:  no one in the Montreal dressing room will dare say anything about the Bruins being “done like dinner” just yet.  They will say all the correct things for public consumption.

It would be more fun if someone pulled a Tiger, for sure, but I don’t see that happening.


1 comment:

  1. Long suffering Leaf fanApril 18, 2011 at 9:53 AM

    Cox's article in the Star was bang on when he wrote that the Kessel deal hasn't worked out so well for the Bruins and the Leafs. Two of the three players the B'S deceived to keep over Phil "the thrill" Lucic, Ryder(Wheeler the other was traded to Atlanta for unproductive Peverley) so far have been a big disappointment along with Nathan Horton. With this trio not producing the Bruins are in for a very long summer. And with that thought, in spite of Tyler Seguin maybe we Leafs fans are actually having the last laugh on the Bruins after all!