My Leafs Playoff Experience (Throwback)
It's been quite some time since I last wrote any piece on the Leafs, and I almost feel guilty saying this. But now that the Holidays are around the corner and much needed breaks are closer than ever, I feel it's time to resume action.
And good timing too, the Leafs have been playing well as of late. With the impressive streak they have built with new additions like Santorelli, Panik, and Holzer making impacts, plus strong efforts by Bernier and Reimer, the Leafs are within inches of reaching first in the Atlantic.
With the potential of a return to the playoffs for the first time in 2 calendar years, I thought I take you back down memory lane and tell the tale of the one time I saw a playoff game. We all know how the series ended, but the game I am referring to was Game 3, when the Leafs played their first home game during the playoffs in nearly a decade.
The day was Monday, May 6th, 2013. I was 16 at the time. Boy was it one hell of an experience.
Getting the tickets was just luck in itself. The person who owned them had intentions of going to the game but could not go because of work. He contacted me and my father and we happily obliged to get the tickets.
I can recall being so excited and pumped up for being a part of history, or just being there for that matter. As time inched closer to the start of the game, we quickly arrived at the Air Canada Centre only to find a huge crowd and line-up of excited fans waiting frantically to get inside (including Maple Leaf Square, which looked awesome from the window). I just remember being showered with "Go Leafs Go" chants and booing of any Bruins fan that happened to be standing in line.
As we entered the arena, we were handed scarfs that we were told to use throughout the game (Which I still have and get some goose bumps just looking at it). Getting to our seats took longer than usual as the place was just packed. My seats, by the way, were in the Purples and 3 rows from the back of the arena (Still got a great view of the rink mind you).
According to attendance records, 19,746 people packed the ACC which may have been a record for a hockey game. Anyway, we get to our seats and the arena is nearly packed with pumped up fans eagerly waiting for the players to pour out onto the ice.
When they did, the place just erupted in excitement. I had been to countless Leaf games before, but I never heard a more loud and pumped-up crowd than I did on that night. I knew the fans had been waiting for quite some time for this moment, and it finally arrived. I was excited too, and ready to see some playoff hockey.
Perhaps the most memorable part of the entire game was when Gardiner scored late in the second period.
The Leafs were down by 2 and had the man advantage. Fans were standing and cheering. And the top line of JVR, Bozak, and Kessel was on the ice. The Leafs had strong pressure as Rask had to make 2 huge saves that could have lead to a goal. One of the attempts was from Gardiner, who just missed.
The second attempt, by contrast, slipped past Rask and that's when the floodgates of emotion opened widely. Never before, or since, did I see the ACC react so loudly and excitedly to a Leaf goal. They showed the footage of thousands of more fans at Maple Leaf Square react to the goal and the place went nuts. I still remember being so excited that I could not help but shed a tear of joy (and get some goose bumps in the process.
Need proof of how awesome that goal was? Watch this:
Kessel's goal in the opening minute of the third also got the crowd going. Like Gardiner's goal, Kessel scored it on the power-play. I remember Rask sprawling WAY out of his net after some good pressure from JVR. Rask left a 6 by 4 open for Kessel and he happily tapped home his second of the series.
It wasn't as memorable as the last goal I mentioned, but Kessel is a star. All his goals are memorable. Watch here:
Unfortunately, the rest of the game was nothing too spectacular. We lost 5-2 and allowed the Bruins take a 2-1 series lead.
The crowd may have been disappointed in the Bruins win (and in a way, I was as well). But my spirit was not dampened by the feeling of being at a playoff game for the first time ever. In fact, I bugged my Leafs fanatic friends about it for days.
One year, 7 months, and 2 epic collapses later, I still remember the experience very well. In fact, I sometimes visualize Gardiner's goal in my head as if I was still watching the game live. The shot, the celebration, the excitement, the vibe, it's still stuck in my head and won't be leaving for a long time.
If the Leafs are fortunate (key word here) to make the playoffs this season, my hope is that I am able to attend at least one game at the ACC to relive the positive memories I had that night in May. I know that it is close to impossible to happen, one can dream of such a luxuary.
If that fails, at least there is Maple Leaf Square where there is tons of fans and I get to stand up for 3 ful... On second thought, I think I will stay home if I don't get playoff tickets.