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Its a Good Day to be Leafs Fan

May 11, 2013

Centre Ice 2

For the first time in 9 years! This has been the mantra for the past few weeks for Toronto Maple Leafs fans. Leafs fever has taken over Toronto, like it always seems to do when the Leafs make the playoffs. A dedicated fan raised a petition to have the CN Tower glow like a goal light whenever the Leafs scored a goal in the playoffs and nobody thought it was odd, to the contrary, fans and even players like Nazem Kadri showed their support for the idea. Mayor Ford even declared a Blue and White day in honour of the Leafs.

Its trendy to be a Toronto fan again. But amidst the bandwagoners are the multitudes of fans who have been with the team as long as they can remember loving hockey.  For all those times that fans and media complain that the crowd at the ACC is too quiet – the amount of sheer enthusiasm that can be seen when the tv networks pan the crowd in the ACC, or outside in Maple Leaf Square and even the sprinkling of Leafs fans that can be seen in TD Garden in Boston is almost palpable.

After Game 1, when fans were simply happy to get to the playoffs and the team was overwhelmed by the whole experience, I still had the feeling that the team was better than they had shown.  It was difficult to watch after the joy of that first goal. I wasn’t pleased, but I understood. This is the second-youngest team out there, after all.

Game 1 showed a lot of the bad things about the 2013 Leafs, but there were things that could be fixed.  By performing some line-up changes (some of which the vocal online fanbase had been clamouring for all year) Carlyle’s gang came out re-energized for Game 2 and won.  Not only did they win, but the much-maligned Phil Kessel punted the monkey off his back with a breakaway goal. The win raised the confidence level for both the team and their top forward and coupled with James Reimer’s goaltending gave the Leafs Nation a playoff win. For some, it was their first experience with a playoff win.

Game 3 was another, not so much romp, by the Bruins, but they definitely exposed the problems the Leafs had had all year.  The anticipation in Toronto was enormous and despite the fact that this was their first playoffs in 9 years and the state of the team throughout those 9 years, the pressure on the 5th place team was insane. The world exploded in blue and white, while the on-ice version imploded. Jitters they thought had been erased in the first game reared their ugly head and every mistake seemed to end up in behind Reimer.

Although they finally out-shot the Bruins, with really little to show for it, they allowed far too many shots and made ridiculous mistakes.  Pinned in their own zone, there were few breakouts and many give-aways. One of the Bruin goals coming on a Kessel short-handed give-away. So while the effort was there, it wasn’t consistent and the mistakes were costly. Back to the drawing board.

Game 4 – All jitters gone and the Leafs rode the enthusiasm of the building. Yes, the surge from the fans in the ACC was there, despite the previous loss in their first 2013 home playoff game. It was an exciting game with lots of hitting, speed (which tends to favour the Leafs) and breakout plays.  Up 2-0 after the first, the Leafs were staggered by a Bruins comeback that saw them roar out to take the lead 3-2. Insert veteran forward Clarke MacArthur who’d been sitting for the first games, but brought hope back by banging home his first to tie the game.

The third period was the Leafs show, where they hemmed Boston in their own zone and peppered former Leaf draft pick, Tuukka Rask with shots from everywhere, as well as hitting a few goal posts. The only limit on their drive was a massive drive to the head of defenceman, Mark Fraser which quieted the building more than any opposition goal could.  The big man was dropped by a Milan Lucic shot that hit him in the forehead.  Bleeding all over the place, Fraser left with the trainer and the next day would undergo surgery for a broken bone. Visors anyone?

Overtime saw Toronto breathe a sigh of relief that there wasn’t going to be a shootout after 5 minutes and the Leafs poured it on. The Bruins weren’t going to just roll over, however, and they pounced on a Dion Phaneuf missed hit and roared back up the ice to score the O/T game winning goal. David Krecji pretty much won the game himself with his hattrick and Leafs fans were heartbroken.

What I can say about that game is that while my team lost and I yelled at the team, the refs and the commentators (wow, do I not like Glenn Healy and most of the CBC crew so far – if the Leafs listened to their analysis of the team, it would be a wonder that they set foot on the ice, because the Bruins just have so much over them.), this is why playoff hockey is sooooooo exciting. This is why the players play and the fans scream. This is what raises the intensity level above that of a regular season game. I LOVED THIS GAME, despite the outcome, because it made me remember why I cheer for hockey.

Addendum:

Game 5 was played tonight.  I watched from the haven of my couch, as per usual, with the exception of Game 2 – which I had to follow on Twitter. Faced with recovering after an absolute heart-breaker at home, the Leafs tromped into TD Garden and rallied to achieve a 2-1 win on the back of Optimus Reim.  The first 40 minutes were absolutely owned by the Leafs and it looked like Rask was going to be the factor in eliminating the team that drafted him, from the playoffs.

Then Tyler Bozak scored on a short-handed breakaway.  And later, Clarke MacArthur would score his second goal and the eventual game-winner early in the third period. But after that goal, just to give their fans cause to have heart attacks, cardiac arrests or whatever you want to call it – fits maybe, the Leafs rolled over and couldn’t find their way out of their own zone. The Bruins had pressed since the second period but the third was where Reimer would shine.  He performed highway robbery on Patrice Bergeron and stole the show and the game when the Leafs lost their composure and couldn’t seem to skate or find the puck.

This was the goalie that management didn’t think could get them into/through the playoffs. This was a guy with a lot to prove to the outside world, but this game was a definite statement. He comes to play and he’s standing tall. The Leafs are alive and on to Game 6 because of James Reimer.

Long Live Optimus Reim!

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