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The Maple Leaf flags on the cars will come down, but what a series....

Let’s be honest:  the Leafs, in many ways, deserved to win this series.  I'n guessing even some of the Boston faithful would concede that, upon reflection.  And I think Leaf fans should feel tremendously proud of what this young team did.  I’ve been watching hockey for  a long time (five plus decades) closely and I did not see this comeback coming by the Bruins in Game 7.  It's not that I thought the Leafs were home and cooled out.  I did not see Boston, on the heels of their effort in the last three games, scoring three goals to tie it up and send it into overtime.

For me, there is no “blame”.  Phaneuf played his guts out.  So did Reimer.  Heck, so did Kessel, Lupul, Franson, the injured Fraser, Kadri, Koamrov, Kulemin, all the Leafs, really.

And for all his critics, I believe that while players win and lose games, Carlyle coached his guts out to.  He made every adjustment, pulled every string, to get this group in a position to win.  In the end, they were within two minutes (seconds, really) of one of the more stunning upsets in recent hockey memory.


One of the interesting aspects of trying to provide a bit of analysis after the final whistle is looking back and determining if any of the pre-series and early-series commentary (in this case, thoughts that I put forward here) rang true—or missed the mark badly—as the series wore on.

From the Leaf side of things, I wondered if Kessel and Gardiner, for example, would be solid playoff performers.  (Interestingly, I was not unduly concerned about Reimer, because I have a kind of blind faith in the guy…)  Did Kessel have what it took to handle the full-scale attention any team (and maybe especially the Bruins) would throw his way?  Could Gardiner handle the physical demands of playoff hockey?  For the record, I thought the Bruins would push that notion further, but they didn’t challenge him—or Kadri, for that matter—the way I thought they could and would.  In fact, the smallish Kadri was more the hunter than the hunted a lot of the time in this match-up.

But a lot of my “themes” were not related simply to the to the Leafs.  I knew they would obviously be a huge part of the equation here, of course, and I felt a lot of the series would come down to “will”, as I have written about here before. Who would want it more?

Having asked that question, I can’t honestly say, looking back, that the Bruins truly wanted it more.  Heck, they somehow scored in the dying seconds, but I’m not sure it was about wanting it more.  It was maybe a young Leaf team not quite able to close the deal as much as it was about the Bruins being more determined.  Again, if we’re truthful, the Bruins did not play a good game Monday night.  But they managed, somehow, to win.


Before the series began, I opined, that the Bruins would a very beatable team in the playoffs.  (I’ve said for years, and especially this season, that the East was not a strong Conference, and the Leafs could earn a playoff berth in part because of the flawed rosters around them.)  I wasn’t sure that Toronto could be the squad to beat Boston, but having watched the Bruins over the years, you knew they were not what they were a few seasons ago.  (For the record, while their one Cup season was obviously impressive and cannot just be shuffled aside as though it didn’t happen, some historical perspective may help.  Tim Thomas was a huge factor, of course, as goalies almost always are.  And the Bruins were full measure for their championship, no question.  But except for that one remarkable spring, the Bruins have gone through some massive letdowns every year in the playoffs, including this spring—giving up some shockingly big leads more than once along the way in a number of different series.  That they escaped this particular jam allows them to live another day, but only convinces me all the more their days as an elite squad are all but numbered.  Yes, they were playing with a lot of injured guys, but they were missing something nonetheless.

This was also a Bruin team that, this year alone, was wildly inconsistent, and gave up some big leads in a number of regular-season games.

In more specific terms, I felt Chara was (still is) past his prime.  He remains a huge presence, and a big-time player, but you could see early in the series that the Leafs could work him, make him move his feet more than he wanted, put him in difficult spots.  He’s still awfully good, but not the player he was.  It’s a testament to him that he played as many minutes as he did in this series, and in Game 7, and played as well as he did.

Same with Lucic (though a much younger player), who has had his moments against Toronto but overall was mostly not a major factor until the final moments of Game 7.  For the most part, he was not the player we would have expected him to be, say, two years ago, if the Leafs were playing that Bruin squad.  My suggestion regarding Lucic before the series, and early on in the series, was easy to make from the comfort of my couch but it was essentially this:  don’t antagonize him, don’t wake him up, in case we see the Lucic of old.

I also spoke of Seguin before the series got underway, and wondered aloud if this would be his coming-out party, or if he would begin to show himself as simply (like a lot of current young NHL’ers) a nice player, but not the impact guy you dream of when you draft a player second overall.  Early in the series I thought Seguin was one of Boston’s best players, a real threat, but as the series wore on his production was not in evidence.  Was that a case of his not playing well, tough luck, or the Leafs doing a job on he and Bergeron (and Marchand)?

That said, in the end, Seguin kept fighting to create chances, and his good shift helped create momentum that ended up in Marchand (often invisible in the series) netting the winner, with help from Bergeron.

Speaking of Bergeron, I thought the Leafs might have a hard time matching up against him, because he is such a smart, versatile center.  But they limited his production, along with his linemates, and that was a big part of the series going to 7 games. However, he was there at the end, making a difference.

I also thought the Leafs would do well to get into Rask’s head a bit, upset him, agitate him around his crease, given his history of blow-ups.  But to his immense credit, Rask played some fine hockey in this series.

Bottom line:  as good as the Bruins have been for years now, and as much as they have been, in a sense, a measuring stick for the blue and white, we were “this close” to knocking them out. We are now at least on a par and I dare say, a better team.

At the end of the day, the Leafs deserved every win in this series. In fact, they may have been full measure for five wins.  In the end, now that it’s over, we can look back and say a few things: over the course of a full series, they were faster, tougher, smarter, grittier and more disciplined than the Bruins. But we didn’t win.

In two of the games the Leafs were felled more by breakdowns than overall awful play.  But when there was doubt, or moments when error crept back into their game, Reimer was there in Games 2, 5, 6 and 7 to save the day. Yet the Bruins live to play another day.  The Leafs will reflect and wonder about what might have been.  How long might they have gone in these playoffs?


I wrote the other day about the spring of ’59, when a young Leaf team upset the Bruins—who had been in the finals twice in the previous three years and were expected to be finalists again that spring.  Interestingly (and I’m not saying history will repeat itself), the core of that squad because the guts of the group that went on to win four Cups in the ‘60s.  Kids like like Mahovlich (right), Duff (for two of the championships), Baun  and youngish veterans like Armstrong, Horton, Stanley, Pulford and Bower were there in ’59 and became Leaf stalwarts in the glorious championship seasons.

That was a different time, a different era in hockey.  While the Leafs came achingly close Monday night, they could not quite slay the dragon, just as the emerging Leafs could not beat the powerful Habs in 1959 and 1960.

I won’t make bold forecasts moments after a tough Game 7 loss.  But the Leafs are a team for the present—and future.  The Bruins, to me, look like yesterday’s team.  I don’t see them beating the Rangers, but who knows?

As for the Leafs, I sense they will now reside in a different level of consciousness in the minds of Leaf supporters around the world.

I wrote recently about things I was “right” about when it can to the Leafs this season.  There were also things I was plenty wrong about.  But as I look back on a short season, a flat end to that schedule and a pretty impressive comeback against the once powerful Bruins and almost an upset series win, a couple of thoughts come to mind:  I believed in Reimer (as I’ve indicated here since last summer and before) and I believed in Carlyle.  And I believe all the more in both men now.

Reimer is the guy in goal.  I wrote this weeks ago, and he needs to be the guy going forward.

While many Leaf fans saw only Carlyle’s stubbornness and his supposed dislike of certain players (and apparently "advanced stats"), my suggestion is he has helped to make them, for the most part, better players—and for sure, a better team—when it really mattered.  And that’s in the playoffs.

It’s a bit early to “look ahead”.  We all need a bit of time.  But now we know what the Leafs are capable of.  They can’t fool us any more.  The bar, fair or not (as I said here once they made the playoffs officially), will now be much higher.

But because of that, and their play over the past two weeks, they have created another generation of Maple Leaf fans.  The Smythe legacy lives- again.

I’ll leave the final comments today to you. 


  1. Well I don't think the picture is quite as rosy as you paint it Michael. The Leafs did improve by leaps and bounds this playoff. They are a much better team than when they started for sure. I think it's a strecth to say they were tougher, smarter and grittier than the Bruins. At times yes they were but at other times they were hemmed in their own end an awful lot. This series was pretty equal in the end. I think they still need to get gritter to win though. Over the collapse in the third I didn't see enough blocked shots or enough desperation plays. That is the process of learning though and I would expect them to be a lot better tnext year.

    They were faster by far though. I think as you pointed out the Leafs are on the upswing whole Boston may be on the decline (although they have some stellar young players as well).

    To me the Leafs gave a valiant effort and they have grown alot as a team. They did have an epic choke in the last 10 minutes though. To me some of the things I have been harping on for a while came back to get them at the end. They still need a number one center. They need someone who can play against Krejci or Bergeron and win face-offs. This was the most glaring thing I saw. The Leafs have an abundance of good young wingers but lack elite depth down the middle They also need another big time defenseman. Phaneuf is not good enough to do it on his own and none of the guys they currently have can play 30 minutes a night. For all the talk about Chara slowing down he played over 35 minutes tonight, who's our Chara?

    This was a hard loss but hopefully it will make the Leafs better in the long run. Nonis saw what his holes are in the lineup. Now the onus is on him to go and fix them. Next year is going to fun.

    1. I think one of the key points you make is that Nonis is well aware of the flaws we see. He is (and Carlyle as well) no doubt thinking well beyond what we see as fans.

      We agree that next season can be another big step for this team. Another center, another stud defenseman. Not new on the 'wish list' but sitll essential for a long playoff run, I sense. Thanks Willbur.

  2. I feel a little bewildered tonight so maybe I'll keep this short and have more to say tomorrow. But I stand by what I said the other day. The Leafs are the more talented team, as you have said tonight. I will not cry over close misses that could have turned this series. The Leafs absolutely proved much more this year than anyone could have guessed.

    It was clear in the handshake line afterward. Being an old school guy, I have seen these lines go more quickly and become less heartfelt over the years. This was slow with a lot of acknowledgments from the Bruins. They respect the Leafs and they know they are lucky to move on.

    I don't mean to single out any one player here, but I do hope this series brings the talk about the Kessel trade to a close. This entire year and certainly this series he shone and outshone Seguin, while Hamilton is no more than an injury replacement. Through all his silence, Kessel has spoken loud and clear.

    Congrats Leafa on a great year.

    1. I could be wrong, Pete, but my guess is that while there will always be questions (when things hit the skids, as they inevitably do with most players) questions will arise again, but I have to believe that, for the most part, Reimer, Kessel and Phaneuf have demonstrated their value to the Leafs- I'm not talking about salary, simply that they can play at a high level under the playoff glare. Thanks Pete.

  3. Although all you say is true I can't help but feel devastated by this loss. I can't relate it to any other Leaf loss at all, this hurts in the worst way. I am working a night shift after the game and glad I am as I don't think I can sleep. Maybe time will heal this wound but it has cut deep. One thing though the hockey was great! A fast hard hitting attack team, who would have thought this from a Carlyle team. The off season will present the question of changes to get better and motivate the group to come back more determined than ever.

    1. Hi purch, not that my words will help, but for what it's worth, I've also lived through many heart-breaking losses as a sports and hockey (Leaf) fan, and some I never would thought I'd get over as a sports "Dad". It's tough when a team we follow closely, have a genuine rooting interest in, falls short in the end- especially when they had a lead at the end of the game, and may, on balance, have "deserved" better based on effort and performance.

      Games like this do hurt. It's because we care that it does hurt. I'm sure this one will sting for a long time not only for fans but the players and the entire organization. That it hurts will only make future success something that will be appreciated all the more.

      It's tough know, but in the sunny days ahead, Leaf supporters will step back and move past the obvious disappointment right now, and see better days ahead. Thanks purch.

  4. I find myself wanting to share the pain before I even read your perspective, Michael. As I bewail the loss, I feel like writing before I read...

    It's a little hard to 'wax poetic' so soon after such a roller coaster experience (when the down was much deeper than you'd anticipated cause we got so 'high' in the middle. It took everything the Bruins had to pull this one out and I'm wondering what they have left for the next series...

    When we went down 1-0, I thought... good... a little adversity will help to keep the focus (of course, I'd have been happy if we had the lead, but I thought it might have turned out like game 1). Then, we tied it up and began to pick up our game and have a more dominating presence.

    Grabbo was being bounced around, JVR was also 'bloodied', Phaneuf was bruised, pretty much everybody was intense and playing 'sacrificially' and desparately.

    I was trying to stay focussed on the next shift and hoping the players would be in that mental space... I imagine that must've been hard because thoughts of the second round 'danced in my head' and had to be 'set aside' more than once when we were up 4-1.

    The second Bruin goal was a good reality check to remain 'in the moment, but with Rask out with 2 minutes to go, the intensity was palpable. Sure wish the puck hadn't slipped off Frattin's stick on the backhand...

    I was so proud of the guys for how they came out in overtime... but, a fateful clear left Reimer with little chance on the winner (but he sure tried from his prone position). He was devastated and inconsolable in the moments after the goal and animated chopping his stick on the crossbar when he got up (can't tell me he isn't passionate under that controlled exterior).

    Little note... it was Lupul coming to almost 'cradle' James' head to console him... This is a team that likes to play together and we've learned that many players should remain on this team.

    Lots to enjoy in the future... the pain now is part of the joy then.

  5. You described how things unfolded in that third period so well, InTimeFor62. It was, in the end, a classic series of highs and lows. Your last sentence says a lot: losing will make future success all the more treasured. Thanks InTimeFor62.

  6. I've been here before - 1976 I believe - when the underdog Leafs were about 7 minutes away from taking a commanding 3-1 lead on the despised Flyers. But it was tied, and then we lost in overtime, eventually losing the series. It took a long time for me to get over that game!
    This one is just as tough in a way - we had it in the bag but got bit by the same things that have bitten us all year - faceoff losses, inability to hold a lead, rebound control, and inability to clear under pressure. But who thought we'd make it to Game 7? The year is a success that we can all take heart in.
    Of course it's become evident where we need to improve even more. I expect we'll add a UFA or two, and it looks like our young guns have earned their spot at the grown-up's table. They've certainly learned what it takes to win at this level.
    Randy Carlyle accomplished a lot of his goals: making the Leafs a team to be respected, making them tougher, making the players accountable for their play, and upping the compete factor. It's hard not to feel excited about where we might go from here.

    1. I remember the series you are talking about, Gerund O'...if I'm not mistaken it was '77 (we had a 2-0 lead in the series against the Flyers, and in both Games 3 and 4 at the Gardens we gave up goals in the last minute and the Flyers then won in overtime in both games...and went on to win the series in 6 games....that was tough.)

      So you and I have been here before, and a few others who drop by at VLM as well. But we also know, as you point out, that things usually get better from here. A few tweaks and we know we now have a team that can compete when it matters.

      Thanks Gerund.

  7. Michael,I am in absolute shock.In a few days I will be able to focus on the positives like Gardiner etc but right now...anger is starting to set in. Please forgive me,but I am wondering how for the life of me Carlyle doesn't call a time out when Boston makes it 4-3 with 90 seconds to go. And yes, the Leafs D were banged up but the season-long inability to clear their own zone chose a hell of a time to resurface, and is something that must absolutely be addressed if this team is to take the next step.

    1. I hear you, Sean. Fans will be frustrated at how things unfolded. When things don't turn out, we can always second guess what a coach did or didn't do. However, once the frustration subsides, there will be, as you said, some positives to think about going forward. Thanks Sean.

  8. This Leafs team reminds me of the Gretzky era Oilers.

    That early Oilers team won in fits and starts. They lost to a veteran Islanders team before beating them the next year on their way to becoming a dynasty.

    This young Leafs team is learning what it takes to win. Next year they will fight a little harder so they get a better match up, like Montreal. They won't be so starstruck in the first playoff game that they really don't show up. They will be more mature. They will be looking to end the series from the moment the puck drops in game one.

    1. Most young teams have to "lose" before they finally win, for sure, DP. That seems to be the history of sports. The Leafs fall into the young, inexperienced category, but as you note, they have lots to build on.

  9. Really? We're giving pats on the head? No. That was epic failure. 4-1 with 10 minutes left. Not acceptable. They get full credit for making it and getting to game 7, but once in the position they were in, they have to finish it off.

    For me "the moment" was Clarke MacArthur lobbing the puck in the corner with an empty net available. To not even try to put it away just stinks.

    I would have prefered to be blown out than to have it end like this. I don't think someone can hate a team more than I do the Bruins right now. After some dirty antics (elbows, punches, water bottle throwing) they really slid to new levels. Refs missed a lot of calls on them. The rules don't apply in the playoffs? Did Kerry Fraser make a comeback?

    I'm not the grumpy "Leafs suck" kind of fan. This just stings like nothing else. No pats on the back. Man up, tell the guys they failed, and fix it, so it doesn't happen again. There's more hockey next year.

    1. I understand the frustration, portuguese leaf. I've spent a considerable part of my sports "fan" life feeling miserable "the morning after". This one stings for Leaf fans, absolutely. I'm still not quite sure how and why it happened, but it did. And the Leafs will have to "learn", I guess, from the experience. It's tough, because they had a legitimate chance to get to the Conference finals.

  10. Hi Michael
    For many Leaf fans the season is over. It was a terrific season with the Leafs performing beyond virtually everyone's forecast. The players proved that they could compete on the same level as the big Bad Bruins, and should be commended.

    While VLM is about history, in the long run this 2013 team will be perceived as bad history, and the Bruins have good history. The TV announcer was excited about the fact that no other team has ever been down 3 goals in the third period of game 7 and gone on to win. Yuck!!! So this has never happened before, how do you explain that?

    This was a weekend of the big Meltdown. The other sport that I follow closely is Golf. My Fantasy Golf Team was riding Sergio Garcia and he performed one of the biggest meltdowns in TPC history. The PGA tour proves on an almost weekly basis how hard it is to be CLOSER. Now that the Leafs have proven they can compete, this will become the next stage (Only the winner is proclaimed a Closer). Notice what you get when you remove the "C" - Canucks.

    Where am I going with this? In recent posts, I have had the feeling that it is heresy to criticize Carlyle. While I too have questioned some of his personel decisions, his record of turning around recent Leaf history is excellent. He has said he doesn't care what people think, and he is right. All coaches are hired to be fired and it is usually inevitable. There is no better learning experience than by making mistakes.

    I place the onus on Carlyle for this meltdown. After the game, he suggested that the team ran out of gas. Perhaps they did, but why? This team plays the game the way Carlyle asks it to. He is not the only coach in many sports who goes into shut down mode or "bend don't break" strategy at the end of a game, and often has it bite them. I suggested as much in a recent post (I can't find it - how about a search by profile name?) which drew no reaction. The Leafs got away with this "defensive approach" of lobbing the puck out, and then repelling the next assault too often in the regular season and in the playoffs. I am sure a review of game stats, will show Leafs have been roundly outshot in the third period. I have played and coached enough competitive hockey to know that this strategy is debilitating and will tend to "gas" your players. Sometimes you need to go with what got you there, and the Leafs did very well going straight up throughout the series. I couldn't tell on TV, but it looked like most of period Leafs were attempting to lob the puck out of the zone, and then have a line change - Over-coaching????

    When the soore went to 4 - 2, I said to my wife, here we go again, and unfortunately I was right (Reimer couldn't bail them out again).

    One other comment

    Faceoffs have been a problem all season which was worsened considerably by the absence of Bozak. With all the former Leaf Centers living in Toronto can't they hire consultants (like Braves do)for specific instruction of their complete system. Or has the previous administration alienated them all?

    As a senior citizen, I find this meltdown hard to rationalize. Many players play 20 years without even going to a Stanley Cup final, and you need to take advantage of your opportunities when they arise.

    Michael, I have enjoyed VLM and your followers immensely this year.

    1. First of all, Ralph (RLMcC), a genuine thank you for the kind words about the site. The readers and contributors here really are fantastic.

      I like Carlyle a lot but yes, I agree that he was part of what happened Monday night. That said, both you and I over 60 years or whatever have seen this phenomenon regularly in sports. One team is running the show, has all the momentum, the game is under control and seemingly "in the bag", and then they let their foot off the pedal. The very things that got them the big lead in the game, or the series, go out the window. It's "bar the door" time and while teams often can close the deal that way, sometimes things get out of control.

      Once you stop playing to score goals in hockey (the same in soccer, really) or play aggressively in football or even in baseball at times, that momentum can go the other way quickly. I could cite countless examples that we have all seen overt the years. Once you lose that drive to score and all you do is defend with the the Ali "rope a dope", even if you are tenacious, things can go south.

      Run out of gas. No more Reimer miracles. Face-off struggles (I like your idea, by the way, of a face-off guru), whatever, these things happen.

      We can say they shouldn't, and I guess that's true. But they happen a lot. (I once interviewed the great ex-Ranger Harry Howell about a playoff game breakdown against Montreal back in 1966. The interview was in the early '80s. He could laugh about it but it still stung, after all those years. A 4-1 lead turned into a 5-4 loss....just like last night.)

      Thanks for all your contributions here Ralph. Stay in touch and enjoy the warm weather this summer down south!

  11. Hey Michael,

    What a series - what a game. Love em or hate em - the Bruins showed heart to come back - the leafs helped but the leafs weren't the ones to put it in the net and we must give the Bruins and most of all ex-leaf Rask the respect they/he deserve. How many really good glove saves did Rask make in this series - the Bruins made it to Round 2 on his and Kreji's back.

    Now, this series end-up being just as I said it might - game by game - shift by shift. People/Analyst's - I know not you - had stuck a fork in the leafs after the deflating defeat in Game 4 OT, but the leafs and Reimer showed character and came back - they played approximately 196 minutes of elimination hockey and kept the bruins hope of victory and their goals at bay for about 180 of those minutes. The leafs have to be commended for that amazing feat to pull against an experienced team like them.

    I think our young players/franchise players definitely learned a humble lesson in needing to keep your foot on the gas pedal till the clock reads game over.

    Gardiner definitely showed up - I think he finally came over his concussion issues.

    Franson was pretty solid.

    Reimer was mostly great - but still learning certain things - but definitely a keeper as number 1.

    Kadri was just starting to show up - good for him.

    Kessel has slayed the dragon.

    Phaneuf has been jekel and hyde this year but he may be hurt from all the hard minutes

    Gunnar - needs rest.

    And Fraser saved a goal with his head - my god as big a sacrifice play as ever - those stiches would have definitely hurt a little less if the leafs had won last night.

    Colborne looked decent.

    May we be able to get better next year and not slide back like the lightening did a few years back.

    Anon from Scarborough - right now in NYC.

  12. All solid observations Scarborough Anon. And to your last point, yes, we can't just assume the Leafs will be better. (I mean, I feel they should be, yes, but there is a lot of work to do still.) Lots of young teams have showed promise, then flickered out. That will be up to Carlyle, his staff- and Nonis to bring in new pieces to keep things fresh.

    Fans will rightly expect more in the future. Just making the playoffs and "competing" won't be enough. We will assume that as a minimum. Now the bar will be much higher. Thanks Scarborough Anon! Enjoy NYC.

  13. Hi Michael,

    I'll start off by saying that it still stings as I type this. I won't state what already has been said but more importantly, I want to refrain from the negativity and be appreciative of the exciting series. It felt like a roller coaster ride of emotions. Most never expected the run that the Leafs had and was already resigned to the let down after game 4. After tying the series, many of us were were somehow buoyant by the thought that somehow we are destined move on but alas, it was not meant to be.

    The fact that so many of us are so "disappointed" is probably because from the end of game 4 to the end of the series, the Leafs in the grand scheme of things, defied our expectations. No one expected them to finished 5th let alone to an OT in game 7 against a 2 years-removed-champion. When looking at that, there is a little solace at how far this team has come along. It still hurts because we all could tasted it, felt the elation on Kadri's goal leading to the contemplation of the needed strategy against the Rangers when it all fell apart.

    So yes, it will take time to get past this pain but I do know that happier days are ahead. This team is clearly a better team than the majority of us have given credit for warts and all and I can't wait till the next season to begin.

  14. You well describe not only the ups and downs of the series, Lukas, but the expectations that ebbed and flowed before and during the match-up with Boston. Thank you for that.