In anticipation of what will likely be one more in a string of painful seasons I thought that I'd examine some of the painful dates in the team's history. Most of this will deal with recent history (read: what I remember as painful) which is painful enough without delving into the 70s and 80s although I'll certainly make my way into those decades. The date of the first installment should be pretty familiar to anyone that's ever wondered if dropping a match on a hairspray saturated head could result in a fireball...
LeafsTV, while much maligned (deservedly so), can every once in a while offer up some gems. I have seen Borschevsky break Detroit's heart probably more times than the man himself and the game day programming is actually pretty informative. However, the nature of the beast is that there are far fewer good memories to highlight in colour than the bad. Sunday night they aired one of the bad games.
As the month of May inched towards June the Leafs' playoff run began to pick up momentum. Back-to-back seven game victories over the Red Wings and the Blues sent the Leafs to their first conference final against Wayne Gretzky and the Los Angeles Kings. For a 10 year old whose only memories of the playoffs up to that point involved scouring the television in Florida for highlights of a first round exit this playoff run cemented an unbreakable bond with the Leafs.
Forty-eight hours earlier the Leafs won game five in overtime to put the team one win away from ending 25 years (at that points, geez) of wandering through the hockey wilderness. The Leafs got a dream start to game six as Glen Anderson scored less than a minute into the game. The Kings tied up the game but the team's belief received a huge boost as Wendel Clark scored his first goal of the game to give the Leafs a 2-1 lead in the second period.
Then Fraser struck for the first time. Much is made of his famour call but as the Kings put three power play goals past the Leafs in the second period the number of questionable (and one downright criminal) penalties that Helmet Head called put a dent in the hopes of Leaf fans. Then came the kind of third period that would have taken on mythological proportions if the Leafs had won the game. Wendel pulled the Leafs to within one before completing his hat-trick with the Leafs' net empty on a wicked wrister over Kelly Hrudey's glove.
The Leafs were one shot away from setting up a dream matchup against the Montreal Canadiens. Then came The Call. Sean has a perfect visual representation of the gutlessness of Kerry Fraser:
The worst part of watching the video was seeing how quickly Helmet Head tried to put the weight of the decision on the shoulders of his linesmen. While he clearly had a perfect view of Gretzky's transgression he abdicated his responsibility and passed the buck. Wayne Gretzky himself can be seen on the video looking upset because he knows he's supposed to get tossed. All year a high stick that drew blood was a five minute major and a game misconduct. All year. Or at least until Mrs. Fraser's case of spontaneous myopia. On the route to a championship a team needs a certain amount of luck. Some teams win ten games in overtime while others have the greatest hockey player of all time remain in the game despite cutting Doug Gilmour's chin with his stick.
Of course, we all know how things played out. The Kings picked up their fourth powerplay goal of the game courtesy of The High Sticking One and he finished rubbing salt into the gaping wound by playing, by his own admission, the greatest game of his career in game seven to rob Toronto, the country of Canada, and hockey lovers around the world of what would possibly have been the greatest Stanley Cup Final in history. Meanwhile, Kerry Fraser's Reign of Error would lie dormant for 14 years before making a return to Leaf fans lives by wrongly calling a goal off against the Islanders last year as the Leafs missed the playoffs by a single point.
Game seven is a wound all unto itself but in the 41 years since the Leafs lifted the Cup in 1967 have never seen the team closer to a the final than May 27, 1993.