I've made the point before that you can have your Battle of Ontario, with its ridiculous controversies and over-hyped skirmishes. The most vicious playoff series I've ever seen was the one between the Leafs and the New York Islanders in 2002.
This was the series that featured Shane Corson trying to kick Eric Cairns in the head, Tie Domi speedbagging Jim Cummins, and Steve Webb hitting everything in sight in New York (but disappearing completely in Toronto).
But the most memorable battle in this war came in game five, which featured two serious injuries. First up, here's the one everyone remembers:
Now it's an official NHL bylaw that if you weren't a Leaf fan in 2002, you have to think this hit was dirty and hate Darcy Tucker for it.
But it wasn't. Based on the NHL's rules at the time, it was squeaky clean. The NHL would later add a "clipping" penalty (which is never called) to try to prevent hits like this, but at the time there wasn't anything in the rulebook that said hitting low was illegal.
Years later, a theory emerged as to why Tucker went so low. Apparently the Leafs scouting report on Peca said that he would pretend not to see you coming, then launch himself at your head. So if you're going to hit him, the thinking went, go low. Apparently Tucker agreed.
The hit turned Peca's knee into spaghetti and caused him to launch a summer-long PR campaign against Tucker. The two hated each other for years, right up until Peca signed with the Leafs and they started driving each other's kids to kindergarten.
So yes, Tucker's hit was clean. On the other hand...
Now that's a dirty hit.
Look, I love Gary Roberts as much as the next guy, but this hit is charging, boarding and hitting from behind all rolled into one, not to mention a pretty clear attempt to target a guy's head.
In one of the strangest calls in recent memory, the officials handed Roberts a major but didn't eject him because, in their view, there was no injury on the play. I don't know about you, but I think Jonsson looks kind of injured there. Luckily for Roberts, Jonsson didn't end up bleeding -- probably because the part of his brain that controlled his circulatory system had been turned into sawdust.
Jonsson had a history of concussions and was never quite the same player after this hit. The Islanders asked for a suspension, but the league declined. Roberts later admitted that he delivered the hit because he was sick of Damien Cox over-rating Jonsson just so he could bash Cliff Fletcher for the Wendel Clark trade in 1996.
I may have made that last part up.
The Leafs eventually won the series, but were so banged up that it took them a much-longer-than-usual seven games to eliminate the Senators in round two.
Side note: You can hear Leafs fans cheering both hits, yet I don't remember any manufactured outrage about being "classy". If this happened today, we'd have to put up with hysterical blog post lectures from every Islanders fan in the world. Yes, all six of them.