Redemption is on the horizon
Every human on Earth has experienced trauma and every human has a different definition of what trauma is. For myself, as I found out on May 13, 2013, trauma is watching my favourite sports team, the Toronto Maple Leafs, blow a two-goal lead with 82 seconds remaining to the rival Boston Bruins in game 7 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. At that time the Leafs had not been in the playoffs since 2004 and would not be back until 2017. That loss marked rock bottom for Toronto sports and five years later I am finally man enough to admit that it was the only time a single tear ran down my face due to sports. Trauma.
I bring up the shared traumatic experience of millions of Torontonians not to dwell on the past but look at the possible catharsis that lies ahead. Tonight the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins will face off once again in game one of the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in a rematch made in hockey heaven. Not only do these two Original Six teams have history dating far beyond 2013, but they are two elite hockey clubs that would not be facing each other in the first round if it wasn’t for the NHL’s stupid playoff format. Boston’s 112 point season ranks them fourth in the entire league, while Toronto’s franchise-record 105 point season ranks them tied for sixth. In other words, these are two of the best teams in the NHL, so a lot will be riding on this first-round matchup. Perhaps more for the fans than the players.
Only five players remain on the Maple Leafs roster from 2013: Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, and Jake Gardiner. Otherwise, the entire roster, coaching staff, and management group has been turned over. A lot of change can happen in five years, especially when a franchise undergoes a major rebuild. That’s why the Maple Leafs are not looking at this upcoming series with the Bruins as a rematch. Nor are the Bruins, who have six players remaining from 2013. But there is one segment of the population that not only considers this a rematch, but might go so far to say it’s the most important rematch of their sad, Toronto-sports watching careers. I’m talking about Toronto Maple Leafs fans, of course.
Toronto is hockey’s capital city, but since our last Stanley Cup Championship in 1967 we certainly haven’t been acting that way. The Leafs have been to the playoffs just twice since 2004, and both times went in as severe underdogs and lost in the first round. Leafs fans like myself have sat through lots of uncompetitive hockey, until now. Now, for the first time since Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, and Morgan Rielly were still sucking on a teat, the Leafs enter the playoffs with something to lose and even more to gain. A rematch with Boston provides an opportunity to not only win their first playoff series in over a decade, but also to knock out Boston: Our rivals not just in hockey but in baseball and basketball too. Defeating the Bruins would be a milestone moment for Toronto’s modern sporting regime, which by the way is doing very well right now. Still, in order to shake the loser label the city has developed over the past few decades, Toronto sports needs a milestone moment. Defeating the Bruins and coming out on the winning end of this rematch could be it.
The Leafs won the season-series 3-1, but just like five years ago this Bruins team is no easy test. The Bruins have battle-tested veterans like Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand who play a style that is both rough and poised. If the Leafs fall into Boston’s trap and allow the Bruins to play the cycle game, it will be extremely hard to match their poise. However, if the Leafs stick to their fast and aggressive style throughout the series, their top-end talent could carry them through to the next round.
It took me five years to get over the trauma of the 2013 collapse. On the bright side, if there is one, the Leafs have been blessed with an opportunity to make up for passed failures and please their fans. Sure, these might be two completely different rosters from what we saw in 2013, but it is still the Leafs versus the Bruins. Until the Leafs win, it will always be about 2013.
Here are four scenarios, in order of best-case to worst-case, regarding the Leafs versus the Bruins, round two:
LEAFS DEFEAT BRUINS IN GAME 7 HEARTBREAKER
Could there be a better scenario? Not only do we get to watch seven games of two elite hockey teams going at it, but we get to inflict the Bruins fan base with a pain similar to what Torontonians suffered in 2013. It might be impossible to make it as dramatic, but if the Bruins give their fans hope before it all comes crashing to the ground, that would be wonderful.
LEAFS SWEEP BRUINS
This would be good too. Not only would a sweep improve the confidence of this young Leafs team, it would also demoralize the Bruins fan base. What would the Bruins franchise do after getting swept by this young Leafs team who is yet to hit their prime? Suffer a slow, painful slide to the bottom of the standings, hopefully.
LEAFS GET SWEPT
This one would suck, and I would be upset for a good week, but it really wouldn’t be that bad in the grand scheme of things. In a sweep situation we Leafs fans would never be able to build up enough hope to get too sad. Additionally, we know this Leafs team is young and yet to hit their prime, so if they got swept by the Bruins us fans could quickly hop on the Raptors bandwagon and start watching the NBA playoffs instead.
BRUINS DEFEAT LEAFS IN GAME 7 HEARTBREAKER
If this happens, and for the sake of my mental health I really hope it doesn't, but if it does I will have no other choice but to move to South America and start a new life for myself. The trauma would be too much.