It seems that the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins share a destiny (or that the hockey gods seem to enjoy tormenting Leafs fans by constantly throwing bears in their way – in either case, it’s not good for the Leafs and Leafs Nation).
The wounds from last season are still fresh. After securing a playoff berth for the first time in eight seasons, Toronto pushed Boston to the brink of defeat before collapsing itself in Game 7 of their first-round matchup.
That collapse would haunt the Leafs all summer heading into the current season where they promised not to repeat it. Instead, they apparently reserved the collapse for late in the regular season, ensuring that another playoff setback wouldn’t happen since they likely won’t make it to the big dance anyway.
Boston, by the way, eventually made it to the Stanley Cup Final that year, but they were beaten by the Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
Both teams spent the offseason seeking improvements to their lineup. Toronto added Jonathan Bernier, Dave Bolland, David Clarkson and Mason Raymond while Boston added Jarome Iginla – the same Iginla who shunned the Bruins in favour of the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.
Toronto has actually slipped in the standings, moving from fifth place in the Eastern Conference at the close of last season to occupy ninth place at the present. In contrast, the reserve has happened for Boston: they’ve jumped three spots to land in first place and have a legitimate chance of winning the President’s Trophy this season.
While the Leafs have been on a tragic ride over their past ten games (2-8-0) – a slide that has essentially pushed them out of the playoff picture – the Bruins have been on one of those special rides (8-1-1) that make certain teams Stanley Cup favourites. If ever there was a clear comparison of contrasts in the hockey world, this is it.
What’s the significance of all this?
I’ve already suggested that the Leafs are predisposed to miss the playoffs this season, but if I’m wrong, they must beat Boston tonight to keep their increasingly faint playoff hopes alive. It appears that Detroit has now secured the first Wild Card spot and Columbus has a head start on the second one. In other words, the Leafs have no room for error.
At the start of the season, I would have said that the Leafs were finally ready to beat the Bruins. Now it appears that the Bruins are in position to end the Leafs’ season for the second year in a row.
(For the record, Iginla has flourished in Boston, collecting 61 points (30 goals, 31 assists) in 75 games. He made the right choice this time.)
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