Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Was the zamboni driver game the worst loss in Maple Leafs history? A scientific study

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost a crucial game on home ice to a freelance Zamboni driver that they employ, and it was the worst.

But was it the worst ever?

That’s a tough question for Maple Leafs fans, and it has come up more than a few times over the last 48 hours. You have to be slightly damaged to even really contemplate it. So yeah, this is right up my alley, let’s do this.

I’ve picked out ten candidates for the coveted title of “worst Maple Leafs loss ever.” Let’s break down the cases for and against, and see which ones are the true contenders.

It Was 4-1

The game: We may as well start with the game just about everyone seems to have had holding top spot until this week. On May 13, 2013, the Leafs went into Boston for Game 7 of their opening-round series. The Bruins were clearly the better team and had led the series 3-1, but the Leafs clawed back with a pair of hard-fought wins to force a winner-take-all game. Then they went out and built a 4-1 lead early in the third.

Everyone knows what happened next.

Why it may have been the worst: It was an agonizing scene to watch in real-time, with every Maple Leaf fans looking like these guys. But there’s a myth about this game, which is that it hurt because Toronto fans thought they had it wrapped up. We didn’t. Not those of us who’ve been doing this for any length of time. We knew that a collapse could be coming at any moment, and then watched our worst fears play out right in front of us. It was brutal.

Mitigating factor: The Bruins immediately rolled through the next two rounds with ease, making it seem like a miracle that a very mediocre Leafs team even made them sweat. But more importantly, this Leaf team didn’t deserve to beat the Bruins. It was a poorly constructed roster, built up by questionable coaching and a front office that was almost defiantly dumb. If they’d won, they’d have doubled down. They mostly did anyway – hello, David Clarkson – but this loss helped pave the way for Brendan Shanahan a year later, and an eventual ray of hope.

Worst loss ever? It’s a very strong candidate. But let’s run through a few others.

The Boxing Day Massacre

The game: On December 26, 1991, the Maple Leafs went into Pittsburgh to face the defending champs and got utterly dismantled by a final score of 12-1. Mario Lemieux had seven points, and linemates Kevin Stevens and Joey Mullen each settled for six.

Why it may have been the worst: The final represented the worst loss in franchise history. Grant Fuhr, acquired to great fanfare just a few months earlier, was in net for all 12 goals and looked awful. The loss left the Leafs in third last overall, driving home the reality that new GM Cliff Fletcher wasn’t going to be able to magically fix this mess overnight.

Mitigating factor: Fletcher proceeded to magically fix this mess overnight; largely inspired by witnessing a debacle he called “embarrassing to say the least”, he went out and pulled off the ten-player Doug Gilmour trade just days later.

Worst loss ever? At the time, it kind of felt like it. But in hindsight, it was actually a positive if it nudged Fletcher into pulling the trigger on his long-rumored blockbuster.

The Six-Shooter

The game: Facing elimination in Game 6 of their second-round series, the Leafs went into New Jersey and were shut down almost completely. They managed just six shots on goal in a 3-0 loss that was pretty much peak Dead Puck era.

Why it may have been the worst: The six shots set a modern NHL record which still stands today. And while you’d expect the urgency to ramp up, it actually got worse as the game went by – the Leafs were credited with three shots in the first, two in the second and just one in the third.

Mitigating factor: They had way more than six shots, and the official scorers in New Jersey are filthy liars.

Worst loss ever? It was certainly an embarrassing way to end a season, especially for a team that looked like a borderline contender. But I don’t think it’s in the running for the very worst ever, especially since those Devils went on to win the Cup.

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