Now, for the last two installments, we've looked specifically at obscure Leaf players that people may not remember. This week, I've decided to mix it up just a little bit, for two reasons:
1) I haven't had the time to think of a good obscure Leaf write up; and,
2) The Leafs are 4-0, baby! Yeah!
With this in mind, I've decided to take a look at this novel concept called a 'winning streak'. Indeed, it's been quite some time since I, or any, Leafs fan could possibly know what a winning streak feels like. Moreover, even successful Leaf teams had a penchant for slow starts, making this year's hot start even more of a rarity.
But, while this 4-0-0 start may seem like an amazing start, is it the best hot streak we've seen in some time? Maybe in the post-lockout era, yes, but, one memorable streak still sticks out in my mind as the true definition of a 'hot streak' that I hope this team could be able to replicate. I'm going to take you back to a time where the Leafs managed to go sixteen games in a row getting at least one point.
The year was 2003. The Leafs, fresh off a 5th place finish and first round exit, wished to improve on the previous season, but stumbled out of the gate somewhat, winning just one of their first five games, and posting a 1-2-2-0 record. While a small winning streak would help, the Leafs were an up-and-down, largely .500 team for the first month and a half of the season.
When they started a road trip through California and Western Canada in November, they were a somewhat decent 7-4-3-1. The road trip, however, would not be kind to the Leafs. A 5-1 blowout to Anaheim, pair of ties in Los Angeles and San Jose, and one-goal losses to Calgary and Edmonton would give the Leafs a 0-2-2-1 in their first five games of the Western swing. So, when the Leafs did manage a 5-3 win over the Vancouver Canucks in the last game of the trip, nobody thought anything of the victory, given how dismal the six game swing had been overall.
And, above all else, nobody realized the Leafs were on the verge of an unbelievable streak.
Sure, beating a fairly strong Western team in Vancouver once may have seemed flukey, but when Toronto did it again with a 2-1 win at the ACC, it seemed as if there was a shift in momentum. Suddenly, the Leafs kept it up; a 3-1 win over what was then a hot Atlanta team; a 2-1 win over the hated Ottawa Senators; 4-2 and 5-4 victories over the Rangers (seriously; why do the Leafs always seem to play them in bunches?); a 6-0 shellacking of Boston. The cherry on top? Their 8th win in a row; a 5-2 manhandling of the powerhouse Detroit Red Wings. This game still ranks among my favourite regular season Leaf games ever watched; there is no other word for it but amazing. This was the game that made you believe the 2003-04 Leafs could actually be for real.
Unfortunately, the St. Louis Blues would slightly burst the bubble, with a 3-2 OT victory over the Leafs, handing them their first loss in about three weeks. That said, two important things of note here: the Leafs still collected an OT loser point, thus keeping a point streak intact. Secondly, the Leafs quickly would revert to their unbeaten ways for another 2.5 weeks after this game.
The Leafs rattled off three straight wins against Minnesota, the Rangers (Again? Seriously?!), and Tampa Bay. After tying lowly Washington, they went ahead and continued to make my Christmas Holidays amazing with a 4-2 win over Montreal, a 5-2 win over Florida, and a 6-5 OT win over.....wait for it.....the New York Rangers. Another sidenote about that last game: Friday night's game reminded a lot of it. It, too, was very back-and-forth, edge of your seat, hockey with major momentum shifts in the game. The Leafs blew a lead, but managed to rally back in OT. After looking back at this, I can't help but see how similar the two games were.
By this time, the Leafs had managed an unbelievable 14-0-1-1 record since that fateful night in Vancouver, and sat atop the Eastern Conference standings, beginning to breathe down the neck of the Red Wings for the overall points lead. But, alas, all good things must come to an end; on Dec. 27, in Nassau County, the Islanders defeated the Leafs 4-2, giving them their first regulation loss in 17 games, and in one month and seven days. From there, the Leafs rode a decent 24-17-4-0 record to 4th place in the East, and a franchise record 103 points. In the process, they also traded for a player they saw quite a bit of during this hot sreak: Rangers blueliner Brian Leetch (filed under 'moves JFJ made that, surprisingly, were actually decent'). As we all know, they were knocked out in the 2nd round by the Flyers.
Yes, I realize the worst thing I could do on the day of a game against the Isles is remind you it was them who broke this unreal streak. However, for those suspicion freaks out there, remember two things:
1) The Islanders were actually a playoff team back then (albeit not an amazing one).
2) This game took place in Long Island. We all know the Leafs have about as much luck winning there as they do in Buffalo; anyone remember the 2002 playoff series where they went 4-0 in Toronto, and 0-3 in Uniondale?
Will we have that amazing a winning streak? I highly doubt it. And while this is the most optimism I've had for this hockey team in years, it'll take a lot of convincing to believe I'm going to see thirteen more games of this.
Which makes what the 2003-04 Leafs did that much more amazing.
Beautiful, ain't it?