Tuesday, April 23, 2013

An Event 9 Years in the Making

I had to let this sink in for a while because I almost didn't believe it. Part of me had to wait until that magnificent little "x" appeared beside their name on the standings page of NHL.com. It took nine years, but it finally happened again. The Maple Leafs are in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

R.I.P. Playoff Drought (2004-2013)
I'll add here that I am a Leafs fan. My dad told me when he moved to Canada from Aberdeen, Scotland, my grandfather had a choice of hockey teams between the Detroit Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs. They went with the blue and white, and it's been in my family ever since.

Now, I thought of doing a post about all the things that were different about my life and hockey in 2004. That would be the easy way out, not to mention done to death. Granted, I was in Grade 10 the last time the Leafs qualified for the postseason. After the Flyers eliminated the Buds in Game 6 the Conference Semi-Finals, I told my 15-year-old self that there's always next year.

But the lockout followed after after my proclamation. Then, the losing kept happening. I kept waiting for things to turn around. Draft picks were made - some were traded away. GMs were brought in with the promise of bringing a Stanley Cup contender to the city and not wanting to compromise the future to sneak into an eighth place spot. And fans of other teams relished in the fact that the Leafs again missed the playoffs, adding to the longest-running Stanley Cup drought in the NHL. It got worse when teams like Chicago and Boston won their latest Cups, ending their long droughts.

Then, a magical thing happened. There was a second lockout! This led to the shortened season we are in now and cut out the worst part of most Toronto seasons: the second half. And now we're in the playoffs thanks to a core put together by the recently-fired Brian Burke. Led by players like Joffrey Lupul, an emerging Nazem Kadri, and netminder James Reimer, the city is buzzing with playoff aspirations.

Photo credit: theleafsnation.com
Reimer will be the key to the series against any team the Leafs draw in the first round, whether it be Montreal (Yes please!) or Boston (Dear God, no!). The team has been drastically shot all year, especially in games down the stretch. Although most of the shots have been from non-scoring areas, it just takes one to trickle in or take an awkward bounce off of a skate to destroy the confidence of a goalie. The pressure will already be high on the Manitoba-native as he will have two withstand nine years of pent-up playoff pressure.

Now, the fans of other teams can't let us Leafs fans live in the moment. It's not unusual to get bombarded with statements that we won't make it out of the first round, it's only a shortened season, or we shouldn't be celebrating something that 53% of teams in the league do. No matter how many things you say, no one can take away the fact that the Leafs made the 2013 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Sure, they might get knocked out in the first round, but the Leafs were there.

My message to them: let us be. Do some of us have high expectations? Sure. It's really hard to look at the standings and the schedule and think, "Hey, that second seed isn't out of the question." But is it realistic? Of course not. Just let us be happy with our drought being over. Small victories. And, if you're right about us not going far, you won't hear from us again until the offseason when the team gets attached in rumours to every player out there. You'll also get to keep saying that we haven't made the playoffs in a full 82-game season since 2004.

Until then, please let us have our moment. We've let you have yours for nine years.

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