FanPost

Toronto Maple Leafs: Year in Review 1993-1994


Record: 43-29-12 for 98pts and 2nd in the Central Division. The NHL had replaced the old conference and division names. Toronto was now in the Western Conference, along with their fellow, old Norris Division foes, Detroit, St. Louis, Chicago and Dallas (Minnesota moved there in the off season) plus former Smythe Divisioner, Winnipeg.


Playoffs: Toronto dumped Chicago in 6, then squeezed past the surprising San Jose Sharks in 7 before finally falling in 5 to Vancouver. Another thrilling, yet eventually heartbreaking postseason, once again coming so close to the Stanley Cup Finals.


Special Teams: PP 19.17% (12th); PK 81.91% (11th)


GF: 280 (13th)

GA: 243 (6th)

Difference: +37


1993 First Draft Choice: (D) Kenny Jonsson - 12th overall


1993 Best Prospect at the time: Brandon Convery. Convery split the 92-93 season between Sudbury, and Niagara Falls of the OHL where he scored 45g and 93pts in only 58gp. He even had a brief, 3 game callup to the AHL.


Coach: Pat Burns

GM: Cliff Fletcher




Only some small moves were made during the 1993 off season. Toronto was coming off their most successful regular season in team history and then came a goal away from the Stanley Cup Finals. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.


That proved to be correct when the Leafs began the 93-94 season on an NHL record setting 10 game winning streak. The one game I remember the most was Oct 23/93. Most sports fans in Canada remember that date for Blue Jays hero, Joe Carter belting a World Series winning, 3 run home run in the bottom of the 9th, in Toronto to capture the Jays 2nd straight title. I however was watching the Maple Leafs top the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-0 in Florida. Mark Osborne scored both Toronto goals and Potvin made 25 saves for the shutout. I had no idea what had happened at Sky Dome until the next morning at school when everyone was talking about the ball game. Everyone knew I was a huge hockey fan, but they were still shocked to discover I chose to watch the Leafs and not the Jays that night. The win in Tampa was not the record breaker though. Toronto set the record 5 nights later in Chicago with a 4-2 victory. Of course, it was the Montreal Canadiens, on Saturday night Hockey Night in Canada, that stopped the Leafs winning streak with a 5-2 win. The Buffalo Sabres eventually tied the Leafs record in 2006-07.


Toronto blasted through the first 40% of their schedule. The Leafs were 20-7-5 midway through December. After that, the team hit the Christmas skids and won just once in their next 10. But January had been the Leafs month for 3 years now and as we all moved into 1994, Toronto went on a 11 game unbeaten streak (7-0-4). Guaranteed a playoff spot, the Leafs backed into the postseason going 4-7-2 in the final weeks. Toronto finished with 98pts, just 2 back of the Wings for the division lead.


Again, all things Leafs went through Dougie. Gilmour produced the 3rd 100+pt season of his career in 93-94. "Killer" scored 25g and 111pts, finishing 4th in NHL scoring. He was also 4th in Hart Trophy voting and was edged out by league MVP, Sergei Fedorov for the Selke. Toronto and all of Leafs Nation was absolutely head of heels for the guy. Gilmour and Blue Jays shortstop Robbie Alomar were both super rock stars doing TV/radio commercials, public appearances, photo ops, autographs, playing their sports at the highest level, and winning too.


Gilmour’s right hand man, Davey Andreychuk had the Leafs first 50 goal season (he scored 53) in 10 years, narrowly missing Rick Vaive’s franchise mark of 54 set in 81-82. Andy’s 99 points matched the career high he set last year and he finished 9th in league scoring.


Captain Clark smashed his previous career marks by scoring 46g and 76pts in just 64gp. Wendel had finally unleashed the beast! He was still hitting, fighting, battling, being a fearsome leader and opponent, but now he was also a major scoring threat. This is the Clark most fans remember to this day and this is the man the Leafs hoped they’d see when they drafted him #1 in 1985.


After the big 3, the offence was pretty dry. Anderson, Cullen and Borschevsky all had major drops in their production. Borschevsky missed 39 games due to a near fatal spleen injury. Sadly he was never again the same player who scored 34 goals as a rookie and his NHL career was over just 2 years later.


Toronto had 2 weapons on the point. Ellett and former 8th round pick Dmitri Mirinov were excellent on the PP together. Although he missed 16 games, Ellett had his 9th straight 40+pt season and the late blooming, 28 year old Russian scored 9 goals and 39 points, both career highs for him at the time.


The rest of the defensive group also saw changes. Ric Natress had retired, Todd Gill missed half the season and 22 year old rookie Drake Barahowsky was getting his first bit of NHL experience.


There was no longer a safety net in goal. The Leafs were fully invested, confident and committed to 22 year old Felix Potvin. Veteran Daren Puppa went to the expansion Lightning, so the Leafs backup role went to 24 year old Damian Rhodes. Going into the 93-94 season, the Leafs tandem had a combined 53 games of NHL experience. However the youngsters did a great job together. Felix went 34-22-9 with a 2.89GAA and a .907SA. His GA was a bit higher and his SA was a bit lower than his rookie season, but he also played 18 more games. Rhodes was 9-7-3 with a 2.62GAA and a .902SA.


Cliff Fletcher continued to go for the gold (or silver in the case of the Stanley Cup). Knowing the window was wide open, the Leafs GM made another bold trade. Fletcher sent Glen Anderson and a 4th round draft choice in the 94 draft to the Rangers for superstar (RW) Mike Gartner. It was HUGE! Yes, Gartner was 34, but this is a dude who had scored 14 straight 30+ goal seasons. Mike had 611 NHL goals at the time of his trade to Toronto, making him one of the greatest goal scorers in hockey history. And he continued to score by burying 6 in his 10 regular season games as a Maple Leaf, giving him 34 on the season and now a 15th straight 30+ goal campaign. It helped that Gartner and Gilmour were also teammates for Team Canada in the 1987 Canada Cup (side note: Canada vs USSR, best of 3 final is still the best hockey ever played).




PLAYOFFS


Under the new conference and divisional changes came a new playoff format as well. Now the top 8 teams in each conference would qualify for the playoffs. Toronto was 2nd in the West and met the 7th placed Blackhawks in the first round.


Toronto and Chicago had met in the playoffs 7 previous times with the Blackhawks winning 5 of those series. The last was in 1986 and ended with Chicago sweeping the best of 5.


Remember, the Blackhawks were only 2 years removed from their run to the Stanley Cup Finals and had both high end talent and committee scoring. Jeremy Roenick played much like Gilmour. A no fear player with tremendous offensive skill, who was more than willing to muck it up. JR was coming off a 46g & 107pt regular season. Chicago also had the reigning Norris Trophy winner (Chris Chelios) and Vezina Trophy winner (Ed Belfour).


The Leafs pushed around the Hawks in game one, winning 5-1. Both Gilmour and Andreychuk each had a goal and an assist. Game 2 was memorable for 2 reasons. First, Potvin’s diving, cross crease glove save on Christian Ruuttu to keep the game scoreless. Second, Todd Gill’s OT winner. At 2:15 of overtime, Gill fired a long slap shot from the right point. It wasn’t a big shot, there was no screen and no tip, yet the puck made its way past Belfour and the Leafs won 1-0. It was a controversial goal as Clark was standing alone in Eddie’s crease (to his right) and looked to interfere with the goalie. Belfour pleaded his case, but the goal stood and the Leafs were up 2-0 in the series.


Tony Amonte scored 4 goals, including the winner as the Hawks took game three 5-4 in Chicago. Game 4 saw Hawks defenceman, Gary Suter score a hat-trick, 2 of them coming on the PP, and we were tied 3-3 after 60 minutes. Just a buck 23 into overtime, Amonte fed a wide open Roenick who quickly snapped the puck into the top corner and the series was tied.


The panic in Leafs Nation rapidly dissipated thanks to Potvin. Felix shut the door in both games 5 and 6, recording back to back shutouts in identical 1-0 Toronto wins, the Leafs advanced. Honestly, Toronto badly outplayed Chicago in both games. The score flattered the Blackhawks.




Toronto’s next opponent was the San Jose Sharks. In just their 3rd season, the fish were a playoff team and had upset the Western Conference leading Red Wings in the 1st round. Despite that, Leafs Nation didn’t seem terribly worried. At the time, Detroit was known for their great regular seasons and do nothing playoffs. We all thought the Leafs would blow right through the Sharks, but the Sharks thought better. Sergei Markarov, Todd Elik, Ulf Dahlen, Patty Falloon and 21 year old defenceman Sandis Ozolinsh were all 20 goal scorers.


So it’s the 2nd seeded Leafs against the 8th seeded Sharks. Due to the nearly 4300km distance between the two cities, this playoff series would be a 2-3-2 format.


Johan Garpenlov broke a 2-2 tie with just 2:44 left in the 3rd and San Jose escaped game 1. The Leafs got serious in game 2. Toronto scored 3PPGs and a SHG pounding the Sharks 5-1. Potvin was less than 5 minutes away from his 4th SO of the playoffs in this one.


The series moved to San Jose and although Borschevsky scored twice, Dahlen scored thrice and the Sharks again had a one game series lead. Toronto pushed back with a giant middle finger in game 5. The Leafs scored 2PPGs and 2SHGs tearing the Sharks apart 8-3. Gilmour had a 5pt game with a goal and 4 apples. Sharks goalie Arturs Irbe allowed 6 goals on 25 shots and was replaced by Jimmy Waite at the start of the 3rd. All Leafs fans watching this game said to themselves, "Ok, no more messing around." It looked like the team had found its groove and the series would be over in 6.


Not so fast! In game five 38 year old Sergei Makarov scored 2g and 2a and the Sharks won 5-2. It was a nightmare! How on earth could we be losing to the Sharks?! At Least the series was going back to Hogtown.


Game 6 was a rollercoaster. Clark scored twice, but the game was tied at 2 after 60 minutes. In overtime, Garpenlov hammered a slapper from the high slot that cleanly beat Felix but rang off the crossbar. San Jose was that close to winning the series! Fortunately just a few minutes later, Dougie fed Gartner from behind the Sharks net and Mike banked in an awkward shot off Irbe and in. Leafs win 3-2 and it’s another game 7.


The Sharks played a heck of a game 7, but Clark again scored a pair and we were up 2-0 after 2. Osborne scored to make it a 3 goal lead, but San Jose found some life when Igor Larionov scored to make it 3-1 with 15 mins left to play. But it was Gilmour again who sealed the deal when he scored at 12:15, restoring the 3 goal lead and Toronto would take game 7 by a score of 4-2.




For the 2nd year in a row, Toronto had made the final 4. However it felt different now. We were flying in 93 and we looked pretty worn down in 94. Waiting for us the West final was the Vancouver Canucks. Vancouver had overcome a 3-1 series deficit to upset Calgary in the first round then had a tea party dumping the Stars in the second round. They had 6 days off before game 1 in Toronto. Again, due to the over 4000km distance between Toronto and Vancouver, this was another 2-3-2 series setup.


Trevor Linden nearly gave Leafs Nation a heart attack in game 1 when he scored to tie the game with only 30 seconds left. Late in OT, Peter Zezel caught Kirk McLean out of his net and scored his 2nd goal of the game giving the Leafs a 3-2 win.


Toronto did everything they could to take a 2-0 series lead. They peppered McLean with 40 shots, but all 3 of their goals came on the PP. Mirinov had 2 and Ellett scored the other one. The Canucks also got PPGs from their D. Jeff Brown had 1 but Jyrki Lumme’s PPG with just over 4 mins to go in the game stole the game for Vancouver. This was a hard loss. Toronto played a really good game. It turned out to be our dying breath.


Vancouver shutout Toronto 4-0 in game 3 and 2-0 in game 4, taking a stranglehold on the series and game 5 still at the Pacific Coliseum. These Leafs were known for their guts and they dug deep while facing elimination. Toronto jumped out to 3-0 first period lead, but you could tell they were outta gas. The Canucks were a big, tough, heavy team and their constant pounding wore the Buds down. Vancouver tilted the ice in the final 40 and forced overtime. Just 14 seconds into 2OT, Dave Babych’s point shot was kicked out by Potvin’s left leg, but Greg Adams hopped on the rebound and backhanded it past Felix. While the Canucks celebrated, Potvin slumped into his net and some of his teammates just laid there on the ice. They were completely done. They had put everything on the table and it just wasn’t enough.


Vancouver would lose in 7 games to the NY Rangers in one of the best Stanley Cup Finals I’ve ever seen.


Broken record here, but again Gilmour played fabulously in the playoffs. He led the Leafs with 28pts in 18gp. Clark led the team with 9 playoff goals. Ellett was a point a game defenceman. Gartner had 11pts. The most disappointing player was Andreychuk. Our 50 goal guy was held to just 5g in the playoffs. He was erased by the Kings in 93 and he looked invisible for long stretches in 94. Sorry, Dave.


Potvin held up his end. He looked real sharp most games and he earned his 2.46GAA and .912SA record in the playoffs. He absolutely was everything and more for the Leafs in his first full season as a #1 goalie and he was still only 22.


Toronto had played 207 games over the last two seasons. Way more than any other team in the NHL. The Leafs were extremely popular, successful, a real joy to watch and follow. Many of us figured Fletcher would have a pretty quiet summer like he had the year before. Boy we were wrong! One of the biggest trades in Toronto Maple Leafs history was coming up and it shocked everyone.



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