Down by a seemingly insurmountable three goals with less than 11 minutes remaining in the final frame -- hell, still down by two goals with less than 90 ticks left on the clock -- the Boston Bruins capped an improbable, huge and historic comeback last night in Boston in an opening round, game seven extravaganza. Dramatically tying the game in the dying seconds of regulation. Winning in overtime.
And thusly breaking the back of the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the heart of Leaf fans, thousands of whom stood in jaw-dropping disbelief (or, disbeLeaf) in Maple Leaf Square outside the Air Canada Centre, shocked, stunned, and sharing in communal sorrow. Honestly, it was as though they'd collectively been punched in the breadbasket.
Sportswriters, those sagacious seers of hindsight, and Sports Talk Radio hosts, those noisy know-it-alls, were quick to call it a choke. Headline writers went with the obvious: "Meltdown in Beantown." And while there's no denying it was a game and series the Blue & White absolutely should have closed out -- no team has ever surrendered that large a third-period lead in game seven history -- can it really be considered a choke when most of these same sagacious seers and talking heads had earlier predicted the Leafs were outmatched from the outset and could not possibly last more than five or six games against the allegedly better Bruins?
Can it really be considered a choke when the Leafs -- David against Goliath, if you subscribe to the scribes -- came back magnificently, miraculously, from being down three-games-to-one just to force a game seven?
Or was it a simple matter that the tank was finally, inevitably empty? That the Leafs had expended every last ounce of energy just clawing their way to that third-period lead in game seven? And when it came to protecting that lead, they were sucking fumes...
This morning Leaf fans -- at least those who are not still in the fetal position, sucking their thumbs -- are doubtlessly nursing hangovers, or weeping profusely into their cereal bowls. But being a cup's-half-full kind of guy, I've found the positives -- anodynes and salves -- for the hurt and heartache being suffered by a city. That's right, I've searched (and searched and searched) and found the Sunny Side...
On the Sunny Side, as one woman tweeted: "Good job #Leafs. What a series. You woke up Leafs Nation." Amen. Because if you live in the Big Smoke, or the environs around Toronto, you know that, come playoff time, the city has been somnolent and sadly sans buzz for years. Well, ladies and gentlemen, this year -- after nine awful, ugly seasons of playoff exclusion that was beginning to morph into indifference -- the buzz is back. Apathy out the door. Electricity in the air. And for the first time in eons, the city that was once the heart of hockey (with Montreal being the soul) was back in the Stanley Cup playoff picture. All told, it was good for the franchise, good for the fans, and good for the city. Hell, it was good for hockey...
On the Sunny Side, Leaf fanatics can finally change their lucky underwear -- in play now for a seriously unsanitary stretch of days -- and hack off the playoff beards that were growing unrulier by the hour.
On the Sunny Side, the loss may well enable Leaf fans to finally feel a little empathy for the Vancouver Canucks who also lost a game seven -- in the Cup final, no less -- to this same Bruin franchise back in 2011, setting off the infamous Vancouver riots. On second thought, probably not.
On the Sunny Side, sure their season has ended, but as Leaf Nation tucked itself in to bed last night -- headachy and heartbroken -- fans surely felt something they have not felt in years. Hope. For the future. No, the team is not yet ready to contend for the Cup -- pieces are missing; there are voids to be filled -- but this storied franchise seems to finally be back on its skates, moving in the right direction. Hope. For the future.
Alas, on the Dark Side: my wife, whose eyes come in contact with hockey about as often as Halley's Comet becomes visible from Earth, predicted the outcome. Seriously. When the Leafs were up 4-1, she sipped her tea, filed her nails, and matter-of-factly announced that Bruins were going to mount a comeback. And when the score was 4-2, she went so far as to suggest that the outcome would be decided in overtime. And not in favour of the locals.
Heaven help me: I'm going to be hearing about that perfect prediction for the next 100 years.