Wednesday, January 20, 2021

The Leafs’ best win and worst loss against each Canadian team

We’re a week into the season. How are you feeling about the all-Canadian schedule so far, Leafs fans?

I’m guessing you’re enjoying it, because right now it still feels new. Sure, there may come a point where seeing the same teams over and over starts to lose some lustre, and Leafs fans find themselves missing the occasional meeting with rivals like the Red Wings, Sabres or even the Bruins. But for now, it’s been pretty great.

So today, let’s remember some of the best and worst of the Leafs’ history in all-Canadian matchups. We’ll go through each of the six opponents in this year’s North Division, and come up with both the Leafs’ best win and worst loss against those teams.

These picks are subjective, obviously, and I’m sure a few of you will have your own picks for some of them. That’s half the fun, since we can use the comment section to Remember Some Games. But here are my picks for the best and worst of the Leafs against Canadian opponents.

Leafs vs. Senators

We’ll start with what’s probably the easiest team to find games for. The Leafs and Senators have both the least history (because it only dates back to 1992) and the most (because of all those Quinn-era playoff matchups), and plenty of it has been memorable.

Best win: Leafs 4, Senators 1 – April 20, 2004

There’s no shortage of candidates for the best game when you’re talking about an opponent you’re 4-0 against in the postseason, but I think this one is the clear winner. It wasn’t the closest game or even the most entertaining, but it’s the one that’s come to symbolize the pre-cap Battle of Ontario. Joe Nieuwendyk’s pair of softies turned what figured to be a tense Game 7 showdown into a relatively easy Leafs win, spelling the end of the Jacques Martin era in Ottawa. It remains the Leafs’ last playoff series win, against Ottawa or anyone else.

Worst loss: Senators 8, Leafs 0 – October 29, 2005

One of the weird postscripts to the four-part playoff arc was that while the two teams have never met in the postseason after the lockout, there was a period when the Senators would consistently embarrass the Leafs in regular season meetings. I went with this 8-0 rout in Toronto, but we could also go with a 7-0 loss in Ottawa a few months later, or a pair of 8-2 options. Did it erase the pain of losing four straight in the playoffs for Sens fans? Not really, but every little bit helps.

Other candidates: Any number of memorable playoff moments, including wins like the triple-OT Gary Roberts game, the 2002 Game 7, the comeback in Game 6 of that same series, or sudden death winners from Mats Sundin, Cory Cross, Stumpy Thomas. On the loss side of the ledger, there was a 5-0 blowout in the 2002 opener, and the NHL’s first-ever shootout defeat. There was that awful Bryan Berard game. And the rivalry has also given us memorable moments like the flu game, the fake stick throw, Chara vs. McCabe, and Tucker vs. the bench, plus a more recent memory in Auston Matthews’ record-breaking four-goal debut, which I’m going to just go ahead and say the Leafs must have won.

Leafs vs. Oilers

They’ve never met in the playoffs, but did almost pull off the biggest trade in sports history. They also may be the two most neurotic fan bases in the league, so hockey gods help us if they actually do get a postseason matchup this year.

Best win: Leafs 11, Oilers 9 – January 8, 1986

For pretty much all of the 1980s, the Oilers were good and the Leafs were awful and the games between them went pretty much exactly the way you’d expect them to. The decade saw the Oilers beat the Leafs by scores of 9-1, 8-3 (twice), 8-2, 9-2, 8-5, 9-5, 7-1 (twice) and 9-4. And in most of those games, you felt like Edmonton was going easy on them.

So it was a remarkable night in 1986 when the Leafs not only got a rare win against the Gretzky-era Oilers, but did it by beating them at their own game. In what still stands as the highest-scoring Leafs game ever (and just one goal away from the record for highest-scoring game in NHL history), the Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 lead and then went up and down the ice with a dynasty. Gretzky finished with six points, but the Leafs got three from Russ Courtnall, Steve Thomas and rookie Wendel Clark, and a four-goal night from Miro Frycer.

A personal note on this game: The kids in my school were losing their minds the next day. It was right up there with the discovery of the Super Mario warp trick, and met with just as much skepticism. Even at that young age, we knew not to believe in good things happening to the Leafs.

Worst loss: Oilers 7, Leafs 5 – December 18, 1991

We could pick any of those 1980s blowouts, but I’m going with an only slightly more recent option. In 1991, Cliff Fletcher had just arrived, and his first major blockbuster was a seven-player blockbuster with the Oilers that brought Grant Fuhr and Glenn Anderson to Toronto. This was the first game between the two teams after that deal, and a chance for the rebuilt Leafs to serve notice that they were for real. But then Fuhr got shelled, Vince Damphousse had two points in his return to Toronto, and Peter Ing didn’t just beat his former team, he earned one more point than Anderson while doing it.

Other candidates: The recent game where Kris Russell scored the winner into his own net and Nazem Kadri laughed at him. Wendel Clark’s four straight goals in 1996. It doesn’t count because it wasn’t a game, but we have to mention the Leafs “losing” the McDavid lottery to the Oilers on the final ball. And while the infamous waffle game didn’t come against the Oilers, they get partial credit because the guy who threw them was apparently wearing an old school Gretzky jersey.

>> Read the full post at The Athletic

(Want to read this post on The Athletic for free? Sign up for a free trial.)

No comments:

Post a Comment