The Essential Toronto Maple Leafs Game(s)

What the hell is Brylin doing in a shootout?

A continuation of The Leafs Nation’s ‘Essentials’ series. For player and season, click here. For Bitter Leaf’s full Essentials series at Puck Daddy, click here.

This post will focus solely on the Essential Game, as it turns out I had alot to say on the matter. It’s really two games, and you should know that it’s very depressing. But nothing better demonstrates what Leafs fans have gone through the past 7 years than these two games in April of 2007.

Danny: 1993 Western Conference Finals Games 6 and 7
JP: April 7th, 2007, Leafs win 6-5 to keep playoff hopes alive. Most exciting post-lockout game I’ve seen
Steve: Game 7 Round 2 2002, Ryan: Any elimination game against the Senators
Cam: Debating if the 2007 Devils/Islanders shootout counts. Indicative of the Leafs’ between lockouts. 

It was interesting to me that none of us picked the same game. Most of the other teams’ Essential Games fall into three categories: A game in which they either win or lose the Cup, a game in which a franchise or career record was set, or a game that has some sort of name “The Fog Game”, “May-Day”, “The Patrick Lalime Game” and so on. 
We have a mixed bag of those archetypes here. We’ve got The Kerry Fraser and Piano On Back Games, The Patrick Lalime Game, The Wade Dublewitz Dublawicz Doobielawiz Dubielewicz Game, The one where we beat the Islanders without Sundin, and The Closest The Leafs Got to the Playoffs Between CBAs. 
I’m going to focus on the two that are related, because I think the Leafs were robbed of a great piece of mythology and legend by the stupid New Jersey Devils and Wade FREAKING Dublowatz. 
April 7th 2007, Easter Weekend. The Leafs and Montreal Canadiens are closing out their seasons against one another. The Habs are sitting at 90 points tied with the New York Islanders for the 8th and final playoff spot, which meant a Leafs win combined with an Islanders loss the next day will put Toronto through to the playoffs. This was only a possibility because the Thursday prior to the game, the Islanders scored three third period goals to defeat Toronto 5-2 and keep their playoff hopes alive.

The Leafs jumped out to an early lead and were ahead 3-1 about a minute and a half into the second period. The Canadiens then got goals courtesy of a Michael Ryder Natural Hat-Trick followed by a Chris Higgins goal put Montreal up 5-3 with about five minutes left in the second. Things looked pretty bleak and then Carlo Colaiacovo scored to close the deficit to 1.

The whole season was on the line in the 3rd period and for once the Leafs did not disappoint. Bryan McCabe scored 58 seconds into the 3rd to tie it up and Kyle Wellwood put the Leafs ahead for good two minutes later. The Leafs only allowed 5 shots against the whole 3rd period. They knocked the Habs out of the playoffs and put themselves into 8th. All they needed was for the Devils to take out the Islanders on the Final Day. 

Oh, baby.
The Devils were a lock to win their division. They had once again ridden Brodeur all the way, he had started 78 (SEVENTY-EIGHT!) games that season. In the final game of the season they decided to start their backup, Scott Clemmensen against the Islanders, who needed two points to push the Leafs out of 8th spot. Despite the Islanders desperation it took them until 7:51 of the 3rd to establish a 2-0 lead in a game it was clear that the Devils had no intention of competing in. They couldn’t even lock it down and the Devils would tie the game at 19:59 of the 3rd to send it to overtime. 
Lets just stop here for a second so we can all relive the agony of being a Leafs’ fan.The night prior the Leafs completed a thrilling comeback against their most hated rivals to secure a playoff spot. All they need is a Devils win to seal it. The Devils proceed to start a goalie they’ve only started 5 times prior to this game. The team falls behind 2-0 in the middle of the Third, but manages to tie it at literally the last possible moment. All they need to do is win in OT or a shootout and the Leafs make the playoffs. That’s obviously not what happened.

This is the essence of the Toronto Maple Leafs between the two collective bargaining agreements, in two successive, gut-wrenching days. We are giving a reason to celebrate and hope and it is taken away almost immediately by below replacement level goaltending. We haven’t come that close to the playoffs since. But it sure feels like we have.