With much-maligned NHL commissioner Gary Bettman in the crowd, the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped the puck on the 2007-08 season at the Air Canada Centre last night. He was probably unable to catch a glimpse of a homemade sign halfway across the arena that read: “Bettman: ruining the NHL since 1993.”
Despite the Buds’ slightly new uniforms (which either look like pajamas or practice jerseys, depending on who you ask), one might have been thinking they were seeing a repeat of last season as the high-flying Ottawa Senators came back to win 4-3 in overtime on a goal from seasoned Leaf-killer Dany Heatley. Although he was kept off the scoresheet, new Leaf Jason Blake dazzled with his speed. He’ll be a good fit with Mats Sundin on the top scoring line.
There was a typically stiff pre-game ceremony honouring play-by-play commentator Joe (“Holy Mackinaw!”) Bowen for 25 years of service to the Leafs. When Mr. Bowen had the temerity to predict that a Cup win was just “around the corner,” it was hard to not stifle a laugh. Most didn’t. And so instead of Stanley Cup or bust, it seems to be playoffs or bust for this squad.
With low expectations came an uneasy, tangible feeling of dread in the air at the ACC yesterday evening. After a couple of arguable soft goals through the five-hole, the fans were all over beleaguered goaltender Andrew Raycroft, cheering sarcastically as he made easy saves. Having acquired Vesa Toskala during the off-season, the home crowd had seen this movie before, and clearly wanted to have someone else between the pipes. But the Leafs were holding their own against the Cup finalists, deservedly up a goal in the third period with six minutes to go. Perhaps things were too good to be true. But let’s not write the epitaph just yet––the Leafs do get to play teams other than Ottawa. But not quite yet. Tonight it’s Leafs vs. Sens yet again, this time in the nation’s capital.