– Mike Tolsma
Tonight as we recorded episode 6 of the Hard Foul Sports podcast (listen here), I refrained from letting myself go to town on an emotional breakdown. It was just about 5 seconds after I got done muttering the words “Mike Babcock will never go there” that I took a breath, and was ready to go off on a tangent about how awful yesterday was. If you are a casual sport fan, there is a good chance that two years ago last night, you were watching the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the NHL Eastern Conference playoffs first round action. If you were tardy to the party, you probably would have been surprised to see the underdog Maple Leafs leading 4-1 with under 10 minutes to play. Toronto had fallen behind in their first playoff series since 2004 3-1, but looked as if they were on the verge of pulling off a colossal upset and advance to face the New York Rangers in the second round.
I digress; I can tell you exactly where I was that night. Sitting in a hotel room in Youngstown, Ohio, I went to my room and got comfortable, prepared to watch the game with my Canisius teammate (we were on the road playing Youngstown St. the next morning). If you have any familiarity with Canisius College baseball, we lead all of Division 1 baseball with the most rostered Canadian players in 2013, my junior season. That came with a lot of Maple Leafs fans, like myself – the weird Buffalo boy who has grown up loving Toronto hockey. With that though, also came my roommate Billy, an Ottawa Senators fan. Of course, Billy wanted nothing more than to see his rival city’s team lose to Boston, so the evening was filled with a lot of back and forth chirping.
Overall, I was thrilled with the fact Toronto had even made this a series, as previously mentioned, their first since 2004 – the only other time they had made the postseason since the NHL lockout (yes, the first one of the 2000s). I was 11 years old the last time I watched Toronto in the playoffs. I understood, but I didn’t really appreciate it. Now, I was a junior in college and in full understanding how crucial each series meant. The Leafs started out hot, and I was amazed. This was a team who came out flat and with little excitement going down 3-1 in the series, and it was looking like Boston was going to put this one away easily. Then, all of the sudden, Toronto won Game 5, then game 6. Getting to game 7 was good enough for me. This was a team I thought was on the rise. In a shortened season (yes, lockout number 2 made this a 48 game season), Phil Kessel, only in his age 24 season, was looking like a star, Jake Gardiner looked like the next great young defenseman, and James Reimer seemed like he was ready to come into his own as a franchise goaltender. Getting to game seven was enough for me because they put up a fight, and the best was yet to come in the seasons ahead.
I was done being okay with it after I realized Toronto was really about to win this thing. Going up 4-1 in the third period had me on cloud nine from a fan perspective. I was going room to room slapping hands and throwing high fives around to my fellow members of the Leaf faithful. I certainly was going over to my buddy Ryan’s room, our right fielder at the time from New Hampshire and a fan of all things Boston, and giving him middle fingers and laughing my way back to my post on my hotel room bed to watch the clock hit zero. Early in the 3rd, Nazim Kadri blew the game open and made it 4-1. It was over. But four minutes later, Nathan Horton (before Toronto took on his contract this year and he actually was still playing, of course) scored to make it 4-2. No sweat. We are fine. We get down to under 90 seconds left to play. Are you kidding me? Do you believe in miracles?
No. I don’t.
Milan Lucic puts one in the back of the net at the 18:39 mark. At that point, I am getting the death stare to my right, and I can feel Billy’s laugh moving through my bones. I am still comfortable, but the thought is still in my head. Can they really blow this? You know the rest, right? 30 short seconds later, Patrice Bergeron puts it home. 4-4. The deed was done. I am getting it on all ends. My cell phone blowing up with my friends back home laughing and cussing at me. The few Bruin fans I know going wild through text. I just needed these last 50 seconds tick by and give me overtime.
I got overtime, in fact, I got 6 minutes and five seconds of it to be exact. Then, Patrice Bergeron broke my heart and the Toronto Maple Leafs capped off one of the biggest collapses in NHL history. Kudos to you, Toronto. Of course, the rest of the story is typical. Boston paves their way to the Stanley cup final in 2013 and lose in six to Chicago. They made it there though.
Toronto? They have not made the playoffs since. Phil Kessel has one foot out the door, and in the most important draft in recent years, Toronto couldn’t even tank right. They were bad from New Year’s day on, literally, terrible. But not bad enough, so they will enjoy the 4th overall pick in a draft that has not only one, but two potential generational talents in Connor McDavid and Jack Eichel. The latter of whom will be most likely playing in a Buffalo uniform for the next 10 plus years.
Here’s to William Nylander being the next great Swedish superstar in the NHL (Mats Sundin-ish anyone?).
Hope you all enjoyed my ride looking back on May 13th, 2013. I know I didn’t. Go Leafs.
– Mike Tolsma, @Tolss22