Game 60: Two ugly points
There are no beauty requirements for wins.
Sometimes, a win is impossibly attractive. Sometimes a win glides across a crowded bar, bats its eyelashes and dazzles you with a memorable smile that changes your world.
Other times, like tonight, the win is a stranger that jumps into the backseat of your car in the parking lot, all yellow teeth and matted hair and bloodshot retinas.
Stranger: "Hey there. You wanna hangout tonight?"
You (glancing into rearview mirror): "Oh my God! What happened to you?"
But when this Jo Jo the Dog Faced Boy of a game was banished to history, when the wretched visage of nasty turnovers and repulsive broken plays and revolting defensive coverage and un-special teams and a slop oath from both sides had ended, it was the Leafs who were sitting pretty after winning ugly.
The final score was 2-1. A word cloud of this mess looked like this:
If not for the sensational goaltending of James Reimer and Al Montoya – I can't hear that surname without also hearing, "You killed my father. Prepare to die" – this one had very little to suggest two NHL teams were exchanged in late-February battle.
Watching the first and second periods was like watching a game of foosball on the deck of ship that was bobbing in choppy seas. It was like jumping on a Megadrop ride at an amusement park after consuming a glass of curdled milk and an iffy tuna sandwich.
Back and forth. Turnover. A botched chance here, a busted chance there. Giveaway. Back and forth. Blocked shot. Offside. Up and down. Teammates colliding. Here we go. Nope. Turnover. Back and forth. Giveaway. Missed hit.
I’m going to be violently ill.
It was 1-1 late in the third. Our eyes ached. Our stomachs were doing somersaults.
Both teams had exchanged hideous chances. Both teams were now fumbling in the dark, hoping the moonlight and flashing neon motel sign would not shine in through the blinds and let them get a good look at the other.
Pucks were clanging off posts. A cacophony of whistles kept stopping the play for hand passes and endless minor infractions and aborted rushes and scrums that more often than not featured one Zenon Konopka, a grating fellow who looks like he hawks refurbished cordless phones from the back of a stolen truck.
When the cameras cut to a crowd, there were mostly yawns and dazed expressions. The way things were going, or not going, the prospect of a 138-hour shootout involving every player, the trainers and ushers seemed very real.
Then with 4 minutes and 41 seconds left the third, before the game could hit that last branch of the ugly tree from which it fell, a moment of sheer beauty.
Phil Kessel gobbled up the puck in his own zone, activated the turbo-chargers and went end-to-end, one-on-three. He zigged across the blue line, zagged toward the middle and wristed a laser-beam past Montoya for the winner.
And just like that, the crowd finally had reason to stand and cheer. Just like that, the Leafs had closed their eyes real tight and planted a kiss on two ugly points. Just like that, this startled Aye-aye of a game had scampered back into the woods, leaving only a grim memory.
As a laconic Dion Phaneuf noted afterwards: "It wasn't the most exciting game."
No, that it was not. But winning is winning and two points are two points. The game may have sapped our will to live at certain points. But the result, once again, put another coat of improbable lipstick on the standings:
So it's on to Montreal for The Most Important Game Of The Season™ on Thursday night. The magnificent bastards are no doubt pleased this one ended the way it did. But if recent trips to the Bell Centre are a reliable guide, they will need to scrub up their game if they hope to snatch two more points, ugly or otherwise.
MAIN PHOTO: CHRIS YOUNG/CANADIAN PRESS