There is a quote that I have been unable to verify via the Internet, but that I very distinctly remember. One season during the heyday of the Pat Quinn Leafs, where the team made the playoffs regularly and even won sometimes when they got there, they reached a Game 7. Scoring forward Alex Mogilny was asked about the pressure he was feeling, and Mogilny put things into perspective with some of the things he’d been through in his life, including defecting from the Soviet Union. That, he said, was pressure. “This is a game.”
I’ve often thought about that quote. When I find myself getting carried away about what is, after all, a contest between athletes I do not know wearing matching laundry in the service of an employer, I try to reach that level of emotional balance that Mogilny talked about. And having done so once again, hahahah oh my god it isn’t working at alllllllllllllllllllllll I’M A FUCKING WRECK.
These thoughts may be a little more angsty than usual.
- Anything can happen. It’s one game. Literally anything can happen, and it may bear very little resemblance to who’s actually playing better. The Leafs, at least at 5v5, have been the better team this series, and at this point that means the square root of dick-all because guess what, we made the hopelessly misguided decision to invest emotionally in strangers on a slippery surface. Luck is worth a hell of a lot more than process now. The fate of either team is as likely to be determined by a puck bouncing off someone’s ass as anything else. Let us hope it is not our net into which the ass-puck bounces. There’s my Game 7 motto.
- Goodbye Goat. Frederik Gauthier has been on for one goal for and zero goals against this series, which means he has achieved all that we can reasonably hope from him. I don’t quite want to say stop playing him entirely because 60 minutes (or more—shoot me) is a long time and our other three centres need to be alive and breathing by the end. But right around the second intermission, if the game is within five goals, I want Mike Babcock to put a fatherly hand on Goat’s shoulder and tell him he’s free to play Roller Coaster Tycoon the rest of the night. We have stars and there’s nothing to save them for past a competitive third period.
- Please don’t take penalties. I don’t really know what else to say at this point. You can suggest radical changes to the penalty kill if you want, and maybe this would have been wise, but I have a bit of a bad feeling about how it’s gonna end up if we use guys who haven’t played 4v5 all year in Game 89. It just seems too late to change much tactically, in my humble opinion and also that of much smarter hockey writers. So more than anything, just try to keep the game 5v5 where—honest to God—we have a decent chance at winning. Probably the refs are going to call something and that can’t be wholly avoided; just don’t give them an excuse, no matter how much Jake Debrusk deserves to get punched in the mouth. I know it isn’t much an insight to say “gee, maybe don’t let your temper get the better of you” in a series where our 3C got sentenced to life in prison and the opposing powerplay is scoring 150% of the time, but this is one of the few things that is, theoretically, totally in the hands of our players. Self-control means Round 2. Temper tantrums mean you’re finished.
- Superstitious nonsense. At emotional times, people are prone to lean on mystical things even if they know better. This is natural. Wear your lucky socks. Break out the four-leaf clover. Pray to Apollo, God of Sports. Pray to Kermit the Frog, whatever. Just remember, that as tough as things might get out there: hacks like Nick Kypreos and Don Cherry are always wrong, no matter what they tell you. Don’t go for the false hockey prophets, they will lead you only to ruin.
- Take oblivion. I am almost convinced (that is, I am successfully lying to myself) that I can live with any result tonight. But I know deep down the hockey takes if the Leafs lose are gonna be fucking excruciating. People are gonna blame William Nylander for being too blond. They’re gonna blame Jake Gardiner for being injured. They’re gonna say the Leafs aren’t tough enough, that they haven’t learned to win, that they’re mentally weak, that maybe Patrick Marleau brought over Can’t-Get-It-Done-Itis from the San Jose Sharks (rather than the actual problem with Patrick Marleau, which is that even very good players eventually get old.) Most of this stuff will be wrong and there will be nothing we can do about it. Actually, maybe if the Leafs lose, just log off for like six months/the rest of your life.
- They’re in with a chance. This is coming around back to the first point. But it’s worth emphasizing: the Leafs are in with a shot to win it all, they have some talent, and there were a lot of people who wanted to tell you before this series that it was gonna be Bruins in three games because grit. Nothing is predetermined right now. It’s all to play for and it’s in the hands of Auston and Mitch and John and Morgan and most of all Steady Freddie Andersen. As much as this is horrifying because the Leafs have, to put it gently, ripped our insides out and burned them in these situations before, being in with a chance is more than we had most years. And I don’t mind our chances.
Go Leafs Go.