Provincial rivalries not what they used to be
Battle of Ontario? Yawn.
Battle of Alberta? Zzzzz.
No one can fault the NHL schedule makers for closing out the final weekend of the regular season with divisional rivalries. Last night’s Hockey Night In Canada doubleheader featured the Leafs and Senators once again renewing hostilities while two time zones away, the Flames and Oilers dueling for bragging rights in Wild Rose country.
Trouble is, neither game meant anything.
The starting goalies at the Pengrowth Saddledome were Curtis McElhinney for stuck-in-fifth-place Calgary and Jeff Drouin-Deslauriers for Edmonton, whose tee times have long been booked. Not exactly Mike Vernon vs. Grant Fuhr. Enough said.
Toronto and Ottawa, who toiled through four heated playoff series between 2000 and 2004, snoozed through a matchup that paled in intensity to prior games in their brief but acrimonious history.
With both teams finishing out of the playoffs for the first time since 1997, the lethargy was expected.
In fact it’s been a while since I’ve covered a Toronto-Ottawa game of any consequence. The most recent example I can cite is the last home game of 2005-06, the first season after the lockout. Heading into the final weekend in April, the Leafs needed to run the table in their remaining three games to keep their playoff hopes alive, and hope that Tampa got no more than two points in their last two contests.
Toronto’s opponents on the Saturday night were the hated Senators, who had owned the Leafs all year long with 7 victories – two by OT/shootout – in as many matchups that season. Leafs goalie Ed Belfour was sidelined for the remainder of the year, leaving their post-season aspirations on the shoulders of Jean-Sebastien Aubin, who had played marvelously down the stretch.
The Leafs pulled out a surprising 5-1 win, on the strength of three power-play goals. The departure team’s bus to Buffalo for the following day’s game was delayed so that the players, coaching staff and media could watch the drama being played out in Tampa between the Lightning and the Hurricanes.
Alas, Martin St. Louis put the final dagger in Toronto’s season, scoring in overtime with just under 11 seconds remaining in the extra session. Does anyone remember the Carolina goalie that gave up that goal? See the answer at the end of this page.
Boyd Devereaux’s hat trick on Saturday night was only the second of his career, and interestingly enough, his only other three goal game also came at the expense of the Senators, on St. Patrick’s Day of 2000 as a member of the Edmonton Oilers.
“Whoops, nothing I can do about that I guess!” reflected Devereaux when ribbed at the suggestion that his heroics cost the Leafs a chance to lose the game and finish in fifth-last place, which would have given Toronto a slim but possible chance at moving up to the top spot in the lottery. “Backhand shelf probably isn’t my go-to,” he said of his third goal that beat Sens goalie Brian Elliott high on the glove side. “But it seemed to trick him.”
Now that 82 games are over, hopefully the ‘tanking’ debate is put to rest. Would any Leafs fan have been disappointed if the team had lost, given that Phoenix and Los Angeles would have passed them in the standings? No. At the same time, did anyone really expect Ron Wilson to say “OK boys, let’s go out and lose this one?”
As for the two misplays by Martin Gerber and Ian White leading to a pair of Ottawa unassisted goals to tie the score, here’s my response to any conspiracy theory that either faux pas was part of an orchestrated plan to try and give away two points. I have as much faith in that premise as Frasier Crane on Cheers did in Cliff Claven’s opinion on the assassination of Kennedy – or to quote Frasier: “I, for one, do not believe the Beatles were involved.”
While we’re on the subject, could some of you please stop calling the potential to finish at the bottom five “the chance to win a lottery pick”. There are 14 non-playoff teams and ALL of them have a chance to win the lottery, weighted in highest probability in reverse order of finish. The bottom five are the only teams that have a chance to draft FIRST, because a team can move up no more than four spots if it wins the lottery. But even the 14th team HAS a lottery pick and can still WIN the lottery. They would just pick tenth, in that scenario.
I know almost everybody understands that. So, at least say it right. If ya don’t mind.
So long for the summer, to many friends and colleagues that make coming to the rink enjoyable. I may see a few media scribes at Ricoh Coliseum in the coming weeks, so for now I’ll leave this list limited to the staff that I see at Air Canada Centre. There’s too many to mention, but they include organist Jimmy Holmstrom and public address announcer Andy Frost. In-house game host Monika and operations co-ordinator Shawna are always scrambling around the rink to keep the fans entertained; have a great summer, gals.
Van Halen’s biggest fan, off-ice official Bill Wellman is always good for a laugh, and provides formidable opposition for the affections of one Valerie Bertinelli (may the best man win, Bill). Another off-ice man Chris “Chappy” Chapman always checks in to see how my rec. league is doing (we lost in the first round Chappy, I told you not to take me in the hockey pool). Michael, the media elevator operator, always makes sure we get to where we need to go. And the gatekeepers outside the dressing rooms, Glenn and Bill (home) and Michael and Craig (visitors), always understand that while the pass around my neck grants me access, it does not always provide a guarantee of me asking an intelligent question.
This Day In Leaf History: Thirty years ago today, on April 12, 1979, the Leafs set an NHL playoff record by scoring three goals in 23 seconds, the fastest three-goal outburst by one team in post-season history. Darryl Sittler scored at 4:04 and 4:16 of the first period while Ron Ellis tallied at 4:27. “What’s happening here?” I can still remember Brian McFarlane’s call on Hockey Night in Canada. The Leafs defeated the Atlanta Flames 7-3 to sweep the best-of-three Preliminary Round series.
The goalie that gave up Martin St. Louis’ overtime goal in 2006 to end the Leafs playoff hopes, as a member of the Carolina Hurricanes, was none other than Martin Gerber, Toronto’s starting netminder last night.
Rob Del Mundo is the author of Blue And White Beat, and will be blogging at TMLfans.ca throughout Marlies playoff run, as well as the Stanley Cup playoffs.