Am I the only one who gets a nervous, excited feeling in their belly when playoff season rolls around?
I grew up in rural Newfoundland, in a town of 500 in Notre Dame Bay. My childhood was characterized by winter afternoons and weekends spent playing pond hockey or, in the coldest months, shinny on the frozen harbour. You know it. Ploughing the ice clean after a snow fall, boots for goal posts, and pins and needles in your feet as they thawed in your boots on the walk home.
Me and my buddy, Jeff, were hard core. We’d skate when no one else showed up, and after everyone else had gone home. We’d do play-by-play, calling our own moves as we carried the puck down the ice, fighting over which of us could be the Habs each day. Not a word of a lie, when it was just the two of us, we would sing the anthems – yes, both anthems and the Canadian anthem in both languages – before we’d get started.
In a normal season, it was often still cold enough for pond hockey with playoff games on the go. I’d get home for supper ready to eat the legs off the table and plotting how to convince my mother to let me stay up and watch the game. I remember that feeling in my belly when I was young enough that Mom would make me take a nap in the early evening on school nights so I could get up for the late Newfoundland Time start.
This week that nervous excitement was in my belly again while I waited for my team to take the ice in another NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. It’s 30 degrees Celsius in Toronto, and I’d barf if I had to skate like I did back then. But that feeling is still there.
On Wednesday night the first pair of Canadian Teams took to the ice. The Winnipeg Jets were in Edmonton to face the Oilers and came with a game plan to hit everything that moved. The Jets were able to contain the two-headed monster of Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, holding McDavid to just two shots for the game. Another Connor – the Hellebuyck version – was the hero in this one and Winnipeg won the opener 4-1. They hoped to continue the effort in games on Friday and Sunday.
Then on Thursday it was the game we have waited 42 years to see – the Toronto Maple Leafs hosting the Montreal Canadiens in a playoff game. There was much angst in both fanbases, with Leafs fans trying to silence the Ghost of First Round Exits Past, while Habs fans fussed over Coach Ducharme’s line up. But then puck dropped, and all that nervous energy was directed at TVs across the country.
The game was a tight, physical affair. The Leafs took a major hit when Captain John Tavares left the game on a stretcher when a solid check ended in a freak head collision with Corey Perry’s knee. Even veteran fans can recall few uglier scenes on the ice. He was taken to hospital and at the end of the night was conscious and communicating. As of press deadline, the assumption was that Tavares will be sidelined indefinitely.
The Habs won 2-1 on a highlight reel shorthanded goal from Paul Byron, who had passed through waivers three times this season. Carey Price put on a goalie clinic and the Habs drew first blood, taking a 1-0 lead in the series. The series continued in Toronto on Saturday night, and will move east to Montreal on Monday, May 24.
The Toronto Raptors’ President of Basketball Operations held his end of season media availability on Wednesday. Having brought an NBA Championship to Toronto, Masai Ujiri’s contract is set to expire this off-season. While fans have clamoured for Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment to throw a blank cheque at Masai, the charismatic executive said he was less focused on a blank cheque and more on moving forward as a franchise and winning another championship.
“You want to prepare yourself to win another one. Not play in the play-in game, not play in the playoffs. You want to win a championship. Everybody is like why won’t you get in the play-in? Play-in for what? We want to win a championship here.” It sounds like Ujiri’s decision rests on his comfort level that MLSE wants to win again as badly as he does and are willing to do what’s necessary to make that happen.
I wonder why fans like him so much.
Blue Jays Babble
This past week, the Toronto Blue Jays faced the Boston Red Sox for a 3-game series. The Red Sox are the measuring stick in the American League East.
The Jays took the first game to the tune of 8-0 off a dominating pitching performance from Hyun Jin Ryu. The starting pitching for game two was a little less masterful, with Ross Stripling digging a 6-1 hole before leaving the game. The Jays lost 7-3. In the rubber match on Thursday, Toronto took a 7-5 lead into the 9th, but were unable to hang on and lost 8-7.
This is a match-up to watch for the season.
Lori Bennett is a social worker, policy professional, recreation softball player and coach, and new ukulele-ist. A Newfoundlander living in Toronto, Lori loves a good hockey chat or even a debate, just as long as it remains respectful. She posts her gametime thoughts on twitter, particularly about hockey and the Montreal Canadiens, as @lori10habs