Like any other Maple Leafs fan I was holding my breath watching them in their first playoff series since 2004. I wasn’t holding onto any unrealistic expectations that 2013 was going to be “their year” to win the Stanley Cup because I was happy with how they were progressing as it was. Making the playoffs with a young team and holding their own against the favoured Boston Bruins all the way to the pivotal game seven made me feel like this team was going in the right direction. Oh for sure I was hoping they’d pull it off but even if they lost I would be proud of their progress. Then the unthinkable happened, we built a 4-1 third period lead against Boston in game seven in their own barn – on the road. Nobody ever squanders a 3 goal cushion in the third period in game seven right? Actually I was right, because when Nazem Kadri scored to make it 4-1 Leafs, it was supposed to be a safe lead. No team in National Hockey League history has blown a 3 goal lead in the third period during a game seven. James Reimer was playing superb in net and our stars – Kadri and Phil Kessel – were firing on all cylinders.
However, despite half of my brain focusing on who we would play in the next round there was a part of me who didn’t forget just how cruel sports can be, and furthermore, just how painful it could be as a Leaf fan. Things started to unravel like a band aid slowly being ripped off. The Bruins started to fight back. Nathan Horton scored to make it 4-2. Then with less than 90 seconds to go and the Bruins goalie pulled in favour of the extra attacker Milan Lucic deposited a rebound to make it 4-3. Then the tying goal was scored by Patrice Bergeron from the point and Reimer couldn’t see a thing with big Zdeno Chara in front of him.
It could have been different. With about four minutes to play Maple Leafs’ Matt Frattin had a clear cut breakaway in which he shot wide on Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask which would have made the game 5-2 and surely would have sealed the deal. In overtime Joffrey Lupul nearly won it for the Leafs on a wraparound in which he couldn’t lift it high enough on the backhand past Rask. I mentioned to my brother in-law watching the game with me that only perhaps the ex-Leaf Mats Sundin could have elevated the puck at that angle since he was such a master at doing so on the wrap around in his time. A few minutes later Bergeron scored past Reimer for the overtime winner and it makes me wonder just how this collapse holds up against the other ugly losses in playoff history.
It reminds me a lot of the “Monday Night Miracle” in 1986 with the Calgary Flames and the St. Louis Blues. It was Game 6 with the Flames holding a 3-2 lead in the series when they scored about seven minutes into the 3rd period to take a 5-2 lead. The Blues tied it up late in the game and then won in overtime. They too overcame a three goal third period lead. However, Calgary won in game seven a couple days later, therefore negating the miracle comeback in game six and redeeming themselves. The “Miracle on Manchester” is another one of those games. The Edmonton Oilers held a 5-0 third period lead in 1982 against the L.A. Kings only to see the Kings tie the game with five seconds left and then win in overtime. That was game three of the series, not game seven, but it is worth noting that the once inexperienced Oilers ended up losing that series to the Kings. Those are single game collapses in playoff history but none of them were featured in game seven where there is no tomorrow. I suppose that perhaps the ugliest collapse from a team in NHL history was in 2010. The Bruins, with many of the same players as the 2013 version but a year away from winning the Cup in 2011, lead the Philadelphia Flyers 3-0 in the series only to see the Flyers come back and win three straight games to force game seven back in Boston. During that game the Bruins had a 3-0 lead but the Flyers rallied to win the game 4-3, on the road cementing the comeback not only in the game but in the series.
It is worth pointing out that the Leafs’ collapse of 2013 wasn’t that bad. After all, they were down 3-1 in the series only to win the next two and then have a commanding lead in game seven with the series tied. The Bruins of 2010, much like the Penguins of 1975 and Red Wings of 1942 are the only teams in NHL history to relinquish a 3-0 series lead and lose. The Leafs of 2013 didn’t do this, but from an individual game standpoint this collapse was as ugly as they’ve come and compares very favourably to the 1986 “Monday Night Miracle”. They are a young team and have a lot to learn and many players were just debuting in their playoff careers. In my honest opinion much of the burden rests on Coach Randy Carlyle for not keeping the pedal to the metal once they were up 4-1 knowing full well Boston is hardly a team that quits. However, as much of a choke job as it was for the Leafs it was also a performance with a lot of heart from the Bruins who showed their playoff experience.
Despite everything, this game is one that will be retold with the same reverence and frequency as the above games I mentioned for the very reason that we just don’t see professional teams squander a lead so commanding so late in a winner-take-all game. Blowing a 4-1 lead with 11 minutes left and then still coughing up a two goal lead with under 90 seconds…………..well, that’s just criminal right there and it won’t be forgotten in the hockey world.
[easyrotator]erf_74_1374192313/erc_32_1374279127[/easyrotator]Tags: Boston Bruins, Coach Randy Carlyle, James Reimer, Joffrey Lupul, Louis Blues, Maple Leafs Matt Frattin, Milan Lucic, Monday Night Miracle, Nathan Horton, National Hockey League, Nazem Kadri, NHL, Patrice Bergeron, Philadelphia Flyers, Red Wings, Stanley Cup, Tuukka Rask, young, Zdeno Chara