Strength of Character


Okay, so it took a while to get to the post game wrap up ’round here.  What can I tell you, I was waylaid by ecstasy (NOT the pharmaceutical kind); and that sort of joy has been in kind of short supply for Leaf fans since the lockout.  Aside from the 4-3 Leaf OT Victory, I was enjoying (via the wonders of the PVR) the Ticats’ triumphant 30-3 curbstomping of the Argonauts to formally clinch a playoff berth.  I can tell you from personal experience as a Leafs fan for more than 35 years and a Ticats fan since the days of Jason Maas, there haven’t been a lot of nights like that in recent days.  Good times.

Here’s how the Leafs game went as I saw it (note: this is an impressionist recap, not an excursion into hyper-reality. If you want that, wait for James Cameron’s next 3-D extravaganza):

First Period: New Yorkers settling into their seats at MSG have barely mangled their first group of words containing the syllable “-or” when Versteeg is assessed an interference penalty.  The Leafs kill it.  Toronto gathers momentum and begins exerting significant pressure on Henrik Lundqvist in the Ranger goal.   King Henrik turns aside wave after wave, but Kessel, Bozak and Versteeg are knocking, no POUNDING on the door.   Not quite halfway through the first, the Rangers score a weak one on a floater from the blueline.   A lesser team – a team like last year’s Leafs – would fold like a suitcase, but not this team.  The Rangers’ fans – a full throated, profane and self-important lot – are well into their familiar leather-lunged and raucous routine when the fourth lines take a shift against one another.  There is a brief moment of concern from a Leafs fan’s perspective as it looks like the crowd and the situation have dictated that Colton Orr (still reeling from the effects of a lights-out bullseye thrown by Deryk Engelland of the Penguins on Wednesday night) might have to square off against the imposing Derek Boogard.  A fight between the two seems imminent when Mike Brown takes the bull by the horns and fights Brandon Prust to a respectable draw instead.  Orr is spared the risk of a tilt against the Brobdingnagian Boogard.  As the period goes on, Lundqvist continues to turn aside the Leafs attack through either skill or good fortune or both, but the first frame ends with 16 Leaf shots posted against 7 from the Blueshirts.  Still, the Leafs stand on the wrong side of a 1-0 score.

Second period: This period cannot be summed up any better than it was by Jesse Spector in a tweet from the Rangers’ perspective:

Well, that period was an unmitigated disaster for #NYR. Lose Gaborik and Drury, give up 3 goals, outshot 14-5. Booed off ice.

The Leafs absolutely ruined the Rangers in this period.  The Blue and White rained another 14 shots on the Ranger goal; the Rangers, for their part, managed a mere 5 shots.  Three Leaf goals.   Notable among these were the first and the third.  The first goal came on a lovely play that will not count as an official power play marker, but which followed immediately upon the expiry of a ridiculously stupid Chris Drury cross-checking infraction, and which was engineered by none other than Luke Schenn.  Schenn patiently outwaited a Rangers defender while holding the puck down low, then fed it past the penalty-killer and across the slot to an open Kulemin, who pounded the puck on net producing a rebound that MacArthur deposited into the net from behind Lundqvist.  Splendid to see that offensive foresight and skill from the young blueliner, and the grit that made the goal from both Kulemin and MacArthur.  The third Leaf marker in this frame came from Phil Kessel, and it represented a bit of vindication for number 81;  he, Bozak and Versteeg had already racked up a half-dozen decent chances that had either been thwarted by Lundqvist’s skill, or that had fallen to ruin instead through sheer poor fortune.  With this goal, Kessel signalled that he would not give in to frustration.  He would not be “snake-bitten.”

Third period: The hockey gods are a capricious lot.  Having smiled upon the Leafs broadly in the previous frame, they turned upon the Sons of Smythe in a flash in the third.  With the Rangers missing both Drury and Gaborik and down by two goals, this period ought to have been mere mop-up duty.  Instead, Colton Orr got called for a phantom roughing penalty (apparently, according to these NHL referees at least, Orr’s looks alone CAN kill, because he seems to have been penalized for glaring at a passing New Yorker).   The Rangers got another weak one on that power play  (Update: Bob is your Uncle points out (see comments below) that this goal wasn’t on the powerplay. My bad) – a wrist shot from someone named Brian Boyle, who apparently is a professional hockey player who makes a career out of scoring shitty goals against the Leafs – and the momentum swung wildly.  The Rangers had eighteen more minutes to make a game of it.

Again, I say, a lesser team – a team like last year’s Leafs, say – would have wilted and folded.  These Leafs did not, though they did surrender the tying goal.  Here is how the rest of the game unfolded.

Ruslan Fedotenko was busy taking a stupid momentum killing roughing penalty, one that would no doubt ruin his team’s chances of coming back, when Sean Avery refused to surrender the spotlight. “Outrageous and selfish penalties,” he clearly thought, “are my domain and my domain alone.”  Not to be outdone, therefore, Avery waited until the referees’ attention was on the scrum surrounding Fedotenko to take not one but TWO full baseball swings at Mike Komisarek, hitting him once on the back of the leg and once across the ankle, crumpling the Leaf defender to the ice.  Having not accounted for the fact that the linesmen also have eyes, Avery was penalized too.  The Leafs went to a 5 on 3; they held the puck and moved it brilliantly at will through the Rangers’ zone but – perhaps incensed by Avery’s actions and not quite focussing on the task at hand – they failed to produce enough scoring chances on the lengthy 5 on 3 to create an actual goal.

Next, the hockey gods showed a vengeful side:  as Avery came out of the penalty box, the puck moved up ice and – horror of horrors – there was the Leafs’ tormentor (maddeningly still in the game instead of serving a match penalty for intent to injure) feeding the puck to Brian Boyle for the tying goal.

A lesser team – a team like last year’s Leafs – would have succumbed here.  A lesser team would have completed the collapse and surrendered the winning goal.  Not this year’s Leafs.  It was close – there was another game-saving stop from J.S. Giguere as the final seconds ticked off the clock – but regulation time ended in a tie.  But you somehow knew this team was still going to win;  I did, anyway.  I tweeted it after the tying goal.  I posted a comment to that effect over at Pension Plan Puppets in the Game Day Thread.

In overtime, the result was obvious.   I knew Phil Kessel was going to snipe for the win.  He had almost done it in regulation – a loose puck lying unattended at the side of the crease that somehow – how the hell did he do that? – Lundqvist had gotten to at the very last possible nanosecond, a moment on a Leafs powerplay that almost made me a prophet to be reckoned with.

A lesser team – a team like last year’s Leafs – would have felt that the hockey gods were against them.  A lesser team would have felt the game had unjustly been stolen, the false penalty to Orr, the outrageous affront to all things good and true that saw Avery on the ice instead of in the shower, that saw him  feeding the puck to a teammate for the tying goal, the bullshit luck that kept smiling on Lundqvist and keeping the puck out of the Ranger net, all of these things would have been seen as evidence that it wasn’t meant to be, and the team would’ve stopped pressing, pushing and caring.

Not this Leaf team.  This Maple Leaf team is Clarke MacArthur and Tim Brent and Freddie Sjostrom, and last night a little bit of their spirit of determination made Phil Kessel, Kris Versteeg and Tyler Bozak overfull of piss and vinegar too.

In the end, the result was obvious: justice.  The hockey gods have a sense of it.  Tim Brent battled for a puck along the boards.  Putting his head down and working hard instead of bitching, moaning and complaining about the gawdawful refs, Tim Brent drew a stupid penalty from Marc Staal.   The lunchpail crew gave way to the luxury car driving team, and the Leafs power play – in the person of Phil Kessel, on a feed from Tyler Bozak and Tomas Kaberle, with physical assistance from the enormous body of Dion Phaneuf – scored a team goal.  All four guys contributed;  skill put it in the net.  Strength of character.

In the end, the result was obvious.  And wonderful.  Don’t you think?

Update: Added link to YouTubers video of Komisarek’s chop on Avery.


by Junior

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