Commemorating Game 7 & the Leafs Core
On May 13th 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs were eliminated from the Stanley Cup playoffs. Despite holding a 4-1 lead with just over ten minutes remaining in the game, the Leafs somehow collapsed and surrendered four unanswered goals. A 5-4 overtime loss would see Toronto’s most recent playoff campaign come to an abrupt end. In over a decade, Leafs fans have only gotten to enjoy seven Maple Leaf playoff games. Well, technically, only six games. No Leafs fan enjoyed Game 7. In fact, most have either permanently deleted that game from their mental hard drives or they continue to lose sleep over the traumatic experience. I definitely fall into the latter category.
Now, I’m not going to dwell on the game itself because that would be a horrific and meaningless task. Moreover, the game has been scrutinized to the nth degree. Should Carlyle have called a timeout? Why couldn’t Reimer make one save? How come Dion just let Chara stand in front of the net unmolested? Why could no one clear the [explicit] zone? To quote Idina Menzel, we as fans must “Let it Go.” However, I would like to take this opportunity to tell Idina to SHOVE IT. Yes, there is no point in discussing the events of the game, but there is great value in examining how the infamous Game 7 has impacted Leafs fans and the team’s core players. Instead of driving us all crazy by discussing the could’ve/would’ve/should’ve, I want to explore a more emotional and painful aspect of Game 7. Simply put, I want to investigate how fans felt when it was 4-1, how they felt right after the loss, and how they feel today. After all, it has been two long years since that fateful night. My investigation has led me to the obvious conclusion that the fans have yet to recover from the most devastating loss in Leafs history. Furthermore, it has become increasingly clear that the players haven’t recovered from the defeat as well.
That hockey game will haunt me until the day I die…
— Joffrey Lupul (@JLupul) May 14, 2013
Below, I have posted several recollections of Game 7 from Leafs Hub members. I also strongly encourage others to join the discussion at the bottom of this page. Please feel free to share your accounts of the game and how you’ve tried to cope with such a loss. Mental health research has shown how important it is to talk about traumatic events with others who share similar experiences. Leafs fans are still in need of a therapeutic remedy two years later and we want our readers to know that Leafs Hub is here for you.
@JudeMac_17 – “It’s one of the more painful memories I have and without question, the most crushing sports memory.”
When the Leafs went up 4-1, I was so pumped that I called my wife who was at work and yelled, “Kessel to Kadri, 4-1. It’s over.” I didn’t even wait for her to reply, I just hung up. I then took a picture of myself sitting on the couch with my grandfather’s photo beside me. He passed away just a few years ago and he was my best friend. I sent the picture to my mother and said, “I’m not enjoying this one alone!!!”
When they lost, like most, I was devastated for days. But that night, it hurt even more knowing I sent that picture. It’s one of the more painful memories I have and without question, the most crushing sports memory. I don’t know if my grandfather could feel the pain, but I think I felt it for both of us.
@DestoPJ – “If the Leafs lose, it will be the worst collapse in hockey history.”
I was on a surf trip in Lombok, Indonesia with my girlfriend, her friend who was visiting from Canada at the time and an Australian buddy of mine. I was having breakfast (time zone difference) while having to listen to the game over my phone since there was no internet connection in the area remotely strong enough to video stream it. The game just turned 4-1 as my Aussie mate rolls in for breaky. He sees my excitement and asks, “what’s up?” So, I explain the situation and this conversation ends up ensuing:
Aussie: Is 4-1 a big lead?
Me: Well with 12 minutes left, let’s just say if the Leafs lose, it will be the worst collapse in hockey history.
Aussie: Oh cool, so they basically won. Good.
He was laughing his ass off at me about 30 minutes later when he saw me rifle my phone into a rice field. After the fact, I was queasy for a few weeks. It was a surreal experience. Almost like an out-of-body experience.
@hockeychelsia – “I’m pretty sure I binge drank enough for all of Leafs Nation that night.”
The awful night of May 13, 2013… Remember the episode of Fresh Prince where Will and Carlton trick Geoffrey into thinking he won the lottery? He was on top of the world. He was so happy that he celebrated by breaking a vase and quit being a butler. His life had changed for the better. Then he was told it was fake. His dreams crashed and burned when he slowly came back down to earth to face the harsh reality that things had never actually changed for him. That is exactly how I felt after Game 7. Oh and I’m pretty sure I binge drank enough for all of Leafs Nation that night.
@canucksnaphook – ” …this is the first time that I have talked about it since.”
I remember being super pissed when Frattin missed a great scoring chance on a breakaway. We were up 4-1 and my wife asked, “why are you so quiet?” I simply said, “this isn’t over…” Boston scored to make it 4-2 and I knew we were [explicit]. I wasn’t even mad. I went more numb with each goal that was scored. After the comeback was complete, I actually had no idea where I was. Believe it or not, this is the first time that I have talked about it since.
@LeafsLostSoul – “It was 4-1, what could go wrong?”
May 13th 2013… F@$k that night.
I was at my local watering hole where I have somehow become classified as a “regular.” Like Cliff Clavin to Cheers, I am Steve to The Attic Pizza Parlour and Sports Bar. If available, I sit in the same inside corner spot of the bar on every visit. Being the Leaf faithfuls my buddies all are, after winning Game 6, we decided to reserve all the seats for the next game and change nothing from the night before. Everything was good. The Leafs were up 4-1 with 10 minutes left. What could go wrong? I will tell you what went wrong, and what started the comeback. A Ref! Instead of giving Lucic and Phaneuf off-setting roughing penalties, the ref gave the Leafs a power play. This is where it started. After killing off a measly Leafs power play, the momentum had shifted and that was the moment I knew something was not right. Everyone knows the rest of the story and how that game played out. It should never be mentioned, but the game still haunts me like I think my mother-out-law will one day.
After the game was finally lost, I sat there looking at the big screen in front of me. I don’t remember what was on. I don’t remember if the TV was even on. 20 minutes…..staring….. into nothing …….. thinking about nothing …… just staring. The pit within my stomach had the weight of a teenage elephant. The bar owner, a good friend named Rob, looked at me from his side of the bar and said, “What will it be man? Next drink is on me!” Then my best friend finally spoke to me and asked, “Steve, are you okay?” My response, “Double 40 and Ginger in a shot. And yes, I am okay. Just keep me on suicide watch.”
That game broke the team, broke the coach, broke a goalie, broke all of us watching, and lastly, it broke me and my soul was lost. It was 4-1, what could go wrong?
@Stormin_Forman – “Fuck.” One word…”Fuck.”
@jordanmack66 – “…I always find myself bleeding blue and I’m damn proud of it.”
I was at my buddy’s place, snacks bought, Leafs jersey on and ready to watch my boys do it. I don’t remember being so excited/nervous for a Leafs game. Anyways, when it was 4-1, I asked around, “is this really happening right now?” However, I knew with that team’s track record, the game was FAR from over despite the amount of time left. As the Boston goals came on, my frustration/nervousness went up. I was so mad that I went home to watch the overtime with my family. When Bergeron scored in OT, I had my head buried in my knees for about 20 minutes. I didn’t go to bed until 3 a.m. It was a tough week at school. You bet your ass I was made fun of for a long time. But you know what? Don’t ask me how, but no matter what happens to this team, I always find myself bleeding blue and I’m damn proud of it.
@GilmourFan4ever – “I lost faith in these players and it has been downhill ever since.”
I was sitting in my friend’s basement watching the game. I remember texting “Bring on the Rangers!” to another buddy when it was 4-1. Then the collapse started and then the game was over. The Leafs fans in the room (we had our girlfriends over who were not all fans) were dead quiet. We didn’t talk for over half an hour. I had my face buried in my hands and didn’t move for a good ten minutes. I think that was the night I gave up on this core. I lost faith in these players and it has been downhill ever since. This was definitely one of the more traumatic moments in my life, that’s for sure…
@Dudgee – “… one moment can destroy a team that wasn’t too stable to begin with.”
When we were up, I felt like we were home and cooled, but a tiny voice in the back of my mind said “not yet.” Nevertheless, I chose to ignore it, assuming this team couldn’t possibly blow the lead they had. In my opinion, Carlyle had pulled the strings on his players better than we had seen since the days of Pat Burns. But it all came unglued so fast. It was hard to even fathom how it was possible. They underestimated Boston for only that one period in the seven-game series.
After the game, I had the worst feeling in the world. I felt like [explicit]. The only positive I could think of at the time was, “Hey! This team has taken the next step and they are on their way upward. ” But, again, another voice reminded me of something Butch Carter once said about the Raptors. In the game where they let Kobe score 81 points, he felt that it was so devastating that the team would never recover from such a defeat. You never shake it. You have no choice, but to tear the team apart after that. Yes, one moment can destroy a team that wasn’t too stable to begin with. In hockey terms, losing a Game 7 the way the Leafs did was about as devastating a way to lose as you can possibly imagine. It destroyed the psyche of the players on this team. In hindsight, you can see that they never did recover as they have had multiple meltdowns since then. Once it seeps in, it doesn’t leave. Two years later, the dismantling has begun.
P.S. Yes, I hear a lot of voices.
@DoctorRobert – “I wanted to take my jersey off, but I was just too cold.”
Of course, I would include my own torturous account of Game 7. Before 2013, the Leafs last made the playoffs when I was in the 5th grade. When these playoffs began, I had recently completed my second year of university. So naturally, I was just happy to see the Leafs engage in playoff hockey again. I was realistic and expected the Bruins to hammer the Leafs in five games. But, I was wrong. The Leafs played smart and exceeded expectations. They clawed back from a 3-1 deficit in the series to force a Game 7. Again, I took a level-headed approach when gauging the Leafs future. In other words, I anticipated a Leafs loss as they entered Boston for the final and deciding game.
To the surprise of many, the Leafs mustered up a 4-1 lead as the third period ticked away. After Kadri’s goal (the Leafs fourth goal), I immediately re-evaluated the team in front of me. The Leafs had instantly given me hope. They were a team to be proud of. They were a team who could grind out victories. They were a team capable of anything! Unfortunately, this last statement would prove to be true for all the wrong reasons.
Before everything turned sour, like most fans, I quickly started dreaming about crushing the Rangers in the second round. Hell, I was probably so ecstatic that I started dreaming about the Leafs hoisting Lord Stanley. These dreams were allowed to run wild until regulation entered its dying moments. At this time, a good friend of mine called me and said, “Do you think the Leafs will screw this up?” I brushed it off in disbelief. There was no way on God’s green earth that they’d give up two goals in under two minutes. Two goals against later, and I was still pumping out false optimism…
This optimism instantly faded with a Patrice Bergeron overtime winner…
That’s life. A continuous series of getting your nuts kicked. It’s how you react to it that counts. #TMLtalk
— Doctor Robert (@DoctorRobert) May 14, 2013
After the loss, I turned off the TV and sat alone in my dark living room for well over an hour. I wanted to take my jersey off, but I was just too cold. In the depths of my melancholy, I thought about the emotional rollercoaster the Leafs had just taken me on. Had they not won Games 5 and 6, I would not feel such sorrow. Had they not held a 4-1 lead, I could accept the loss and move on. At this point, I began to review the immediate implications of the loss. For me, the worst part of Game 7, was that the Leafs had me dreaming about the second round and then they took it away from me in an unprecedented fashion. To add to this misery, I was frustrated with the fact that the Ottawa Senators got to advance after an easy first round versus Montreal. If only Toronto could have been that lucky.
The heartache continued as I began to blame myself for the team’s loss. As a very superstitious hockey fan, this happens quite often. However, this time was different because my rituals were actually working. After the Leafs lost Game 4, I decided to bring back an old routine that I hadn’t used since the 2002 Stanley Cup playoffs. During those playoffs, I used to call my grandmother to perform some ancient Italian blessing on the Leafs before every game. As Game 6 versus Carolina neared its end, I realized that I had forgot to make my typical pre-game call. With five minutes remaining in the third period, the Leafs were down by a goal and I knew they needed some help from above. I promptly made the call to my grandmother. She turned the game on, blessed the team and miraculously, Sundin tied the game up before regulation had expired. Of course, the Leafs would lose in overtime and I stopped believing in such blessings. Back to 2013, with the Leafs playoff future fading, I made calls to my grandmother before Games 5 and 6. Somehow, I had forgotten to make the call before Game 7…the most important game in recent Leafs history. I did not realize this until after the game was dead and buried. Immediately, I had many distorted thoughts as I had concluded that “I killed the Leafs.”
Thankfully, this madness subsided and I began to re-engage myself into a pool of false optimism. As everything cleared up, it appeared that the Leafs would be a very good hockey club in the future. They took a recent Stanley Cup champion to seven games and were one overtime goal away from victory. In addition, the Leafs were one of the youngest teams in the league at the time. It seemed inevitable that they would grow from this experience and create future playoff success.
Sadly, I was an idiot back then. The next two Leafs seasons would end in more agony and late season meltdowns. Today, I still struggle with the array of emotions Game 7 bestowed upon me. Every now and then, I wake up in a cold sweat and think “but it was 4-1.”
After the Leafs experienced collapses in 2011-2012, 2012-2013, 2013-2014, and 2014-2015, management has supposedly decided to move on from this core group of players. Each year, the team’s typical late season meltdown got worse. When you look at how the past four seasons have turned out, it is absolutely shocking that Leafs fans have continued to show any kind of optimism. But then again, maybe it’s not so shocking. The Leafs have given us legitimate reasons to be hopeful at various points of each campaign. In February of 2012, the Leafs held a playoff spot with 24 games left in the regular season. They would go on to lose 18 of those games. Surely, the Buds would not make the same mistake in 2013. Surprisingly, they didn’t and they made the playoffs…only to have the most epic playoff collapse in NHL history [See Above]. In March of 2014, the Leafs held a top position in the Eastern Conference. With 14 games to go, the Buds somehow broke down and dropped 12 of those contests. Thus, forcing them to miss the post-season for the eighth time in nine seasons.
For me, personally, I gave up on the core at this very moment. However, I briefly regained hope after a discussion I had with Joe Bowen. Mr. Bowen was quick to point out that the Leafs core did not need an overhaul after the 2014 season. They just needed some minor tweaks. After all, he noted that the club would have been playoff bound had they won five more games during their late season slide. At that moment, I took a step back from all the justified bitterness and realized he was right. The team was capable of making the playoffs again. Now, fast forward to December of 2014. The Leafs looked good as they boasted a 19-9-3 record. Certainly, fans were given another reason to invest some hope in their beloved Maple Leafs. These new found hopes would soon be slashed as the Leafs would pick up just 11 wins in the remaining 51 games. This is truly some terrifying and depressing stuff. Nevertheless, Leafs fans are a resilient group and there is no doubt that we deserve better.
Thankfully, fans can hold out for some new hope of a different sort. As we all know, Leafs President Brendan Shanahan has promised a scorched earth approach to rebuilding the team. If he has his way, we will certainly not have to worry about a fifth straight collapse. I suspect our expectations will be so low next season that we will be impressed by the Leafs whether they snag the first overall pick or are simply a young team that plays hard every night. No longer will we have to sit around and watch an entitled bunch put in a poor effort night in and night out. I firmly believe that losing in this manner drove most Leafs fans over the edge. This past season has casted an even darker shadow over the current core. For a variety of reasons, the club’s nucleus has become purely unlikable. It’s worth noting that Kessel, Phaneuf, Lupul, Bozak, Gardiner, Kadri and Reimer have all been with the Leafs throughout the four collapses. Perhaps Shanahan will do his best to eradicate this rotten core who have undoubtedly been affected by years of failure. There is a losing culture in that Toronto dressing room and I believe that both the players and the fans will benefit from wholesale changes.
To that end, on the anniversary of such a miserable day, I leave this poll for you: