When you really think about it, the year 2004 is still quite a long time.
In 2004, the Three Accords launched Hawaiian, there was NHL hockey in Atlanta, and there was still professional baseball in Montreal.
In 2004, too, the Toronto Maple Leafs won an NHL playoff series with club legends like Brian Leetch, Ron Francis, Joe Nieuwendyk, Alex Mogilny, not to mention goaltender Ed Belfour.
This is to tell you how much what the Maple Leafs of the present have achieved on this Saturday night in Tampa is practically historic.
The Maple Leaf club hadn’t won a series in 19 years, and who would bet on this team in the event of a Game 7 against the Lightning, if it had been necessary?
We’ll tell you right now: no one.
So when John Tavares spun around to send the puck down the net in overtime, 19 years of frustrations, doubts and bad jokes were partly erased.
This team that never wins when it counts, that is notorious for choking when the pressure mounts, will finally advance to the second round of the playoffs. It’s not the Stanley Cup, but when you lose that often, it’s kind of a small trophy.
Ilya Samsonov, the one who had set the bar a little high by arguing that his club is the best in the National League, is perhaps the main responsible for this magical Saturday night for the Leafs.
The goalkeeper made 31 saves in this 2-1 victory, and it is above all his brilliance that allows the Leafs to dream a little more and finally take the next step.
Note also that the Leafs scorers in Game 6 are named Tavares and Matthews, which reminds us of a golden rule in the world of hockey: the best must be the best. That’s kind of what happened here, and we can’t get out of it.
Clearly, Victor Hedman was hanging on by duct tape, and when TV showed Steven Stamkos grimacing on the bench, near death after blocking a shot, it was understandable that the once-champions, exhausted by many spring to play very late, were probably at their wit’s end. The Leafs needed to take advantage of that, and they did.
Now that 2004 means nothing, there’s another year to erase. The year 1967, the year of the last cup victory in Toronto.
We won’t list here what was popular in 1967, but that’s the danger facing the Maple Leafs right now: the danger of believing that Saturday night’s victory was enough to forget everything. It won’t be better if the Torontonians suffer a quick exit in the next round.
But there will be another time for such worries. Because on this Saturday night at the end of April, the Maple Leafs finally won a series. It is already a kind of small miracle.