For me, the low point of the Burke era came on Feb. 18, 2012.
The Toronto Maple Leafs were technically still in the playoff hunt, but an inconsistent effort all season and an early-season head injury to James Reimer (delivered by one of the most dangerous players in hockey, Brian Gionta) had essentially sealed the team’s fate. They had dug themselves a deep hole, leaving little room for error.
To reach the promised land, they would have to pass through the Vancouver Canucks. At this time, the Canucks were still one of the league’s elite teams and that’s exactly the type of effort they brought down to bear on the Leafs. Vancouver made quick work of Toronto, taking an early 2-0 lead after the first period and eventually settling for a 6-2 victory on home ice.
Watching the Canucks skate around and outplay my beloved Leafs in every aspect of the game that fateful night, it was only so clear (once again) that the parade down Yonge Street would be delayed another year. Toronto simply wasn’t up to the challenge – they couldn’t compete against the NHL’s best.
Fast-forward two seasons and we may finally be seeing a reversal of fortunes. The Leafs currently sit atop the Eastern Conference and aim to complete the rare sweep on their current road trip into Western Canada.
Toronto skated their way through Alberta earlier in the week, earning lopsided victories over the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers. In both of these games, it was the Leafs who played like the elite team. However, the real challenge comes today.
Returning to Vancouver for the first time in two seasons, the Leafs finally get their chance at revenge. They’ll be led by largely the same cast that fell to the Canucks so many moons ago, but new additions like James van Riemsdyk, David Clarkson and Dave Bolland will surely want to make their presence known. Reimer is projected to get the start and I’m sure he wants to make a statement, too.
Vancouver remains a very strong team so this is perhaps a good test for the Leafs. We’ve seen Toronto cut through some of the league’s weaker teams like Philadelphia, Ottawa and Edmonton, but we’ve also seen them struggle against the stronger teams in the league. Chicago, in particular, brought back memories of Feb. 18, 2012, when they dispatched the Leafs 3-1 a few weeks ago.
We often talk about how the Boston Bruins have been a model franchise for the Leafs over the past few years. Another top team over the same timespan – Boston’s partner to the big dance in 2012 – has been Vancouver. If Toronto has finally exorcised its Boston demons during the playoffs last season, then it may be time for them to turn the table on Vancouver as well.
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