Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Leafs vs. Islanders - Oh, the humanity

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.


  1. LOL "yes, all 6 of them." Another masterpiece DGB.

  2. Yes! Fantastic series, DGB. I was at Game 6 (Cairns tries to separate Corson's face from his skull, nearly succeeds) and it's still the best sporting event I've ever gone to. Chanting Michael Peca and Kenny Jonsson's names with every hit Steve Webb unleashed was the only restitution we had. Probably the best non-final series of the last decade? Good debate to have there.

  3. Oh...and in case you guys were wondering...yes. I am one of the 6 Isles fans. Actually, there's 7 of us, but nobody's been able to find Benny after the season ended.

  4. Great post! Great series!

    One thing that always bothered me about this series though was the Islse fans booing the Canadian National Anthem, and Peca just sat there and took it, months after he helped Canada win gold in Salt Lake.

  5. That series really made me hate Steve Webb.

    Both Tucker's and Roberts' hits were dirty. But at the time, boners.

    That was one memorable playoff.

  6. Tucker's was clean and I'll fight anyone to death over that. Roberts though...I was sure that he was getting suspended and I also thought for a second that I had just seen Jonsson die live on television.

    Easily the dirtiest, meanest, hardest series that I have ever seen the Leafs play. On Long Island I was terrified that every shot would go in and in Toronto I knew the Leafs would win. I still have ridiculous amounts of hatred for the Islanders just because of that series and I'd avenge Robert Reichel by running over Steve Webb if I ever saw him walking down the street.

  7. The only reason we lost to Carolina was because of this series. But damn did I ever enjoy every second of it.

  8. Steve Webb. I hated that guy.

    This remains my favourite Leafs series from my favourite playoff run (other than 1993) including all those times we beat Ottawa.

  9. Will we be going back to this style of play once Burke finishes his makeover? I hope so.

  10. We let a few guys go recently that could play this style. I miss Chad Kilger for that reason and it sure would be nice to have a bulldozer again. Shane Corson can piss anyone off. Which series was it when HNIC featured Corson sitting by himself on the players bench before the game looking sad? I think he retired after being scratched for the playoffs.

  11. Six? Isn't that the number of teams you have in Canada? thanks for the trip down memory lane. I loved Steve Webb and Cairns. Tucker is a putz... and Burkie ain't getting Garth's draft pick. ;o)

  12. DGB, this is why you are tied for the best spot on the net (PPP is right there with ya)
    Jonsson DOES turn, but ROberts did not have to try to send him to the 10th row. I forgot how vicious that was.

  13. I had the misfortune of attending Game 6 after these Game 5 incidents. I hardly made a peep as a Leaf fan and yet I still was almost murdered that night, several times. Those fans were the worst. And as for anthem-booing...the Islander organization promoted peace, love and understanding by literally cutting back and forth between camera shots of Roberts and Tucker during O Canada. This actually happened.

    Domi's speedbag of Cummins was the one thing that salvaged the night. But my favourite postscript to the series was this:

    First player in NHL history to be called for clipping: Michael Peca, NY Islanders.

  14. It's always fun to rewatch highlights of this series and watch Webb no-show every game in Toronto. I don't think I've ever seen a guy be so dominating at home and so ineffective on the road.

    Please tell me you have the clip of Gary Roberts finally giving Steve Webb what he deserved in a 2004 fight they had or I may be forced to youtube it myself. It was the type of fight that would have gotten Roberts suspended for at least 3 games in the new soft NHL.

  15. My memory has failed me. It was Owen Nolan who beat Webb up.

  16. @shaner...

    Nice find. I think it's safe to say that you have a bad defence when people write sentences like this"

    "Without Karl Pilar and Jyrki Lumme, the blueline is thin."


  17. Stittsville SluggoJune 17, 2009 at 9:49 PM

    Awesome, just awesome ! I live in Ottawa and have to put up with all the Sens bullshit but that Islanders series is still my favourite (not incl 93/94 of course) just for the blood and guts of it all. Going back to your CBC musical montages post, there was a great one for this series . I can't recall which game but it was later on and the song was something along the line of 'Back Breaker' ??. I don't know if that rings a bell with anyone but if that could be dug up it would easily make your top five.

  18. The Roberts hit is interesting in that Jacques Martin cited it while defending Alfie's hit on Tucker in Game 5 of the following round.

    He was asked if the Alfredsson hit was a penalty. He said no, it reminded him of the Roberts hit on Jonsson.

    When informed that Roberts got a major penalty, he said, "Oh..." followed by an awkward pause.

  19. @Stittsville Sluggo...

    Don't remember that one, but I'll look for it.


    I absolutely remember that. High comedy.

  20. @Stittsville Sluggo...

    Found it. Uploading to http://www.youtube.com/downgoesbrown right now.

  21. Damn, that was the full Hollweg by Roberts. BTW Hi Melvin, it's me Nilan.

  22. "Without Karl Pilar and Jyrki Lumme, the blueline is thin."

    Karel Pilar, i love that guy!

  23. Chris Osgood being the Isles goalie in the series makes me laugh.

  24. I smell a "Top 10 Leaf Playoff Series" post coming up...

  25. Man that was a brutal series. Corson going totally bonkers is still extremely vivid in my mind. Also damn you Steve Webb. Damn you. Did he even ever touch the puck in his career? I doubt it. He was more of a guided missile on skates.

    That said, both the Tucker and Roberts hit made me cringe. Especially Roberts', I thought for sure a suspension after that. Brutal.


  26. DGB is the bill simmons of toronto!!!

  27. Now there's eight of us - had the privilege of being there in person for this...


    The most electric sporting event I've witnessed.

  28. Dear Down Goes Brown,

    You are the funniest thing that has happened to me since the Leafs season this year...

    Get it? Because they're a joke?

    Oh well, I tried.

    Keep it up. I absolutely love this blog.