Game 78: Brilliant and glorious, the finest moment so far
When we were kids, every summer included at least one stateside road trip.
Sometimes it was Buffalo or New York City. But usually, the destination was Harrisburg or Akron, the city where I was born.
Sometimes I'd fall asleep in the back of our beat-up station wagon. And when I came to an hour or so later, the vista flashing past my window felt different.
We were on the same highway. But you could feel the destination rumbling closer. The view had changed.
A 9-3 demolition of Atlanta on January 7. Back-to-back wins in Los Angeles and San Jose the following week. Four wins in the first five games of February. Clutch victories throughout March, as this improbable, electrifying race continued.
But last night was truly special.
It all started at 7:06 of the first with a highly symbolic goal. Luke Schenn, this team's future, fired a shot that deflected off a hapless Tomas Kaberle, this team's past.
The future had officially surpassed the past...
Kadri crossed the line, deployed a phantom carry, twisted his body, tapped his stick, bobbed his head, lifted his right leg for no apparent reason and then went to the backhand, deking so masterfully it's a small miracle he didn't skate away wearing Tim Thomas' moustache.
Boston was trying to clinch the Northeast Division. The Leafs were just trying to stay alive. But when Kadri scored, the gap in the present standings seemed meaningless.
At that second, it was all about the future.
The guys who just came from behind to win. Not the guys in black and yellow, clustered on their bench, trying to make sense of what just went wrong.
Zdena Chara may be a walking solar eclipse. He may need to go in and out of the dressing room all night so engineers can recalibrate his center of gravity. But I think I'd rather watch the much smaller Timmy Brent dive like a possessed madman, blocking Chara blasts with a gritty resolve that can't be statistically quantified.
Is Thomas the best goalie in the league? That's nice. But all things considered, I think I'd like to watch more of this James Reimer kid, the one who stopped 35 of 38 shots in regulation and overtime, all three in the shootout and who has now beaten Thomas in three straight games.
Milan Lucic is a hell of a hockey player, no question. But when Jay Rosehill responded to Lucic's thuggish antics by dropping the gloves and giving his team an emotional lift with a long, spirited bout, I don't know, there was just something reassuring about his deadpan expression in the penalty box: "You mess with us and I'll mess with you, Milan. End of story."
You know what else the future includes? It includes a never-say-die attitude. In fact, that may be the biggest difference between the first half and this 2011 watershed.
Boston took over in the second period, scoring three times in 6 minutes and 22 seconds. They outshot the Leafs 18-7. They were basking in the rapture of their demented fans. They had a lead going into the third, which over the previous 76 games has translated into 28 wins and 1 regulation loss.
Shift by shift, minute by minute, puck battle by puck battle, the Leafs regained control. They telegraphed no inferiority. They betrayed no surrender. They took the fight to Boston. They turned on the afterburners in the third and created some of the most exciting hockey we've witnessed this season.
And when another sprinkling of pixie dust had settled, when this rousing 4-3 win was in the books, it glittered with all the small things big teams learn to do when they are still young and rebuilding, when they are still on the road to greatness.
The Leafs outhit Boston 23-16. They blocked more shots (23-16) and won more faceoffs (36-29). Up against one of this season's Cup contenders, the Leafs matched the Bruins in confidence, swagger and determination.
Before the shootout started, TD Garden crackled with "Paradise City" by Guns N' Roses. At some point, as this team rumbles toward the destination, we may look back and think of that song as prophetic.
Are you ready for Saturday? You should be. The view is about to change again.
MAIN PHOTO: REUTERS