At least for one night, I didn’t manage to motherfuck something. The Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers put on a hockey game dressed as Calvinball last night, with the Cats getting a 7-6 win in OT. It wasn’t even that simple, if a 7-6 game can ever be simple.
The Maple Leafs jumped out to a 5-1 lead in the second period, and chased Panthers goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. They did so behind some Mitch Marner brilliance:
That was one of Marner’s two goals and four points. But this being the Leafs, and on the verge of a satisfying (and definitive, if you listened to their fans somewhere around 7:30 pm EDT) double over both the Lightning and Panthers, they couldn’t help but toss their fans back into the abyss from which they haven’t escaped for…50 years? Ever? It’s not the abyss that stares back at you, it’s some jamoke in a Darcy Tucker jersey.
The Panthers stormed back, and for the second time this week, canceled out a four-goal deficit. It’s the second time this week Bobrovsky has been pulled from a start and not gotten a loss. And one night after Calgary’s Johnny Gaudreau-Elias Lindholm-Matthew Tkachuk stated their case for best line in hockey by punting the the Kings’ ass up and down LA Live!, the Panthers combo of Jonathan Huberdeau-Sasha Barkov-Whatever Idiot Just Happens To Spill Onto The Ice With Them did their bit. Huberdeau went for two goals and three assists while Barkov netted the OT winner and added three assists himself. Huberdeau became the first Panther to ever crack 100 points in a season, which pretty much tells you why the Panthers have been irrelevant from 1997 to the past couple years.
It was everything the Leafs have been and why they’ve driven their fans nuts the past few seasons and why those fans have driven everyone else nuts with their constant air raid siren of melancholy. Toronto really was on the cusp of something that felt real, as getting out of Florida with two straight wins would have been. They looked dynamic and their offense overwhelming. For just a second, most hockey fans could be forgiven for forgetting that these were the Leafs and they might just be able to firepower their way through all that hangs over them. Questionable goaltending and a defense that can go poof at the exact wrong time? The most fun answer is the only way out is through, which is what appeared to be what the Leafs were doing.
And then their goalies and defense fell apart. And they had no answer for the league’s best offense, though they had just enough left over to tie the game to get it to overtime. But they were outshot 22-5 for a stretch after taking that 5-1 lead. There’s still a feeling about the Leafs that once things start to slide downhill, they only have grease to apply to them and no brakes. Last night will do nothing to dispel that.
But oh what fun. Sure, most fans want to see yet another chapter of the Bruins-Leafs allegory of assholicness. But that almost always turns into hockey at its worst as Brad Marchand takes his most demon spawn form and turns the entire city of Toronto into the Bullet Farm or something. It’s a tired tale and one we’ve seen before.
But Leafs-Cats could be hockey at its best. A fever dream of chances and goals and emotional swings that some people pay $5-10 bucks a tab for. Not only are these the two highest scoring teams in the league this year, they’re two of the three highest scoring teams in the past decade. The NHL needs this. Of course, every pundit from Kelowna to PEI has already prewritten his “You can’t win that way,” piece for such a series. Fuck, Ray Ferraro was doing it on the Leafs broadcast. Here’s a question: Who’s gonna stop either of these teams from doing so? The Lightning might be gassed, and the Bruins are one line. If the Rangers do so it’ll only be due to Igor Shesterkin finally taking on his final “Broadway Hydra” form. If there’s ever a year where a team or two can just go Smash TV all the way to the Final, it’s this one.
And if you really need the angst flood that flows from another Leafs loss to the Bruins, just imagine their reaction to losing to a team from Florida, a location they’ve never accepted as being worthy of hockey. Especially if the Panthers go on to the Stanley Cup Final, a place no Leafs fan that is continent has ever seen Toronto get to. You’ll get your fix of T.O. meltdown, I promise.