The Toronto Maple Leafs return to scene of the Causeway Street collapse on Saturday.
Almost six months have gone by, but their epic breakdown in Boston against the Bruins in Game 7 of the first-round playoff series has not been forgotten. Not by the players, the coaches, the management team and certainly not by the Maple Leafs' faithful.
Most of the players have publicly remarked that they have moved on from that difficult Monday night. But some no doubt will deal with flashbacks upon their return.
"That hockey game will haunt me until the day I die," wrote Maple Leafs veteran forward Joffrey Lupul in a tweet the next day after the Bruins overcame a three-goal deficit in the third period to squeeze out a 5-4 victory in overtime.
Watching how the Maple Leafs deal with the bad memories sixth months later Saturday on Hockey Night in Canada (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 6:30 p.m. ET) is a sports psychologist's dream.
We asked Dr. Saul Miller, one of North America's leading mental coaches for more than 25 years about Toronto's return to Boston. He has worked with NHL, NFL, NBA, MLB and CFL teams as well as PGA Tour players and Olympic athletes in many sports.
"The Leafs panic and meltdown in the final minutes of last season's playoff game with Boston was embarrassing. And that's sport," said Miller, an author of eight books, including Performing Under Pressure: Gaining the Mental Edge in Business and Sport.
"My philosophy is that when stuff happens either you use it or it'll use you. Boston is a good team and Toronto is improving. I would think if the playoff meltdown has any play at all the Leafs will use it and be up to playing a good game versus the Bruins."
The Maple Leafs return to Boston with a different roster. General manager Dave Nonis got rid of seven players who suited up for that fateful game six months ago, eight if you include defenceman John-Michael Liles, who has yet to play for Toronto this season. Gone are Mikhail Grabovski, Clarke MacArthur, Matt Frattin, Joe Colborne, Leo Komarov, Ryan O'Byrne, and backup goalie Ben Scrivens.
Interestingly, Grabovski was bought out in the offseason. He deserved some of the blame six months ago. He was on the ice for three of the Bruins final four goals. Frattin missed a breakaway with 3 ½ minutes remaining in the third period.
When you study the game tape six months later to refresh your memory about what transpired you shake your head because Toronto played well enough until the final 90 or so seconds to put this game away.
The Maple Leafs held a 2-1 lead entering the third period. Goals from Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri put Toronto ahead 4-1 with the third period 5 ½ minutes old.
No sign of meltdown... yet
The Maple Leafs made a lot of smart plays. They still had the puck more than the Bruins until the final 90 seconds. They didn't take a penalty in the third period. But they also didn't seem interested in mounting any sort of attack. They were outshot 13-1 in the remaining time left in regulation after the Kadri goal.
Bruins right wing Nathan Horton scored to make it 4-2 with 10:42 left. Toronto appeared poised in the next few shifts. There still was no indication of a meltdown.
Frattin blocked a shot attempt from Boston rookie defenceman Doug Hamilton just inside the Maple Leafs blue line. He went in on a breakaway, but his backhand was easily turned aside by Bruins goalkeeper Tuukka Rask.
A few shifts later Boston defenceman Johnny Boychuk knocked Grabovski off the puck behind the Boston goal. Bruins David Krejci lassoed the loose puck carried it up the ice and head coach Claude Julien summoned Rask to the bench for an extra skater.
Still, the Maple Leafs were able to knock the puck out to the neutral zone. MacArthur then chipped the puck back into the Bruins end.
The Bruins lugged the puck back up the ice. On the dump in, Boston's Milan Lucic kept the puck alive with a good hit on Maple Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson. It's evident from this point, with 93 seconds remaining in the third period, the Bruins were a physical force. The Maple Leafs sat back.
The puck eventually found Boston captain Zdeno Chara on the right point. He drifted a shot that Toronto goalie James Reimer got a glove on, but couldn't control. This allowed big Lucic to slam in the rebound with 1:22 remaining in the third period.
Julien called a timeout. Boston's Patrice Bergeron beat Maple Leafs centre Jay McClemment on the draw at centre. This allowed the Bruins to gain possession, get Rask back on the bench and fire the puck into the Toronto end.
The Bruins won all the battles along the boards. Lucic made a wonderful play along the sideboards, in which he lifted the stick of McClemment to allow the puck to slide back to Boston's Jaromir Jagr near the blue line.
Eventually, Bergeron got the puck at the point. He scored on a wrist shot with a Chara screen in front. Just as Bergeron releases the shot, Chara has little difficulty pushing Maple Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf aside. Gunnarsson is in no-man's land, about 10 feet in front of Chara.
The clock has 50.2 seconds left in regulation. The game is delayed because the ice is littered with the gold Bruins rally towels. The Maple Leafs may as well as waved the white towel at this point. Boston's Rich Peverley almost ended the game in regulation, but he fanned on a rebound with 12 tics left.
The Maple Leafs only muster two shots on goal in overtime. The best opportunity was a hard shot from the high slot from Lupul. But everybody knows how this going to end.
The Maple Leafs were gassed. The defence pairing of Cody Franson and Jake Gardiner were out a long time when the winning goal was scored. You check the game stats. Sure enough, they got stuck on the ice for a 1:44 shift.
Still, there was a loose puck just outside the crease. But Grabovski could not get his stick on it. Instead, Bruins forward Tyler Seguin kicks the puck with his left skate to the side of the goal. Gardiner turns to get to the puck, but meekly clears it right on Bergeron's stick. Game over.
The meltdown was complete.
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