Strange April Sights: Playoff Games in TO and the Mausoleum
The NHL's spring of a season has provided us with sights we don't usually see.
Toronto, of course, is the self-proclaimed capital of the hockey world, so it's rather nice that the Leafs get at least a sniff of Lord Stanley's hardware every decade or so. And since 1967, that's as much as any Leaf has had. For a team valued at over $1billion, Toronto is hockey's equivalent to the Yankees or Manchester United in financial circles but the Chicago Cubs in league standings. Like the Green Bay Packers, season tickets are inherited or points of contention in divorce cases. It's the only major sports franchise that can confound the grammar nazis -- Toronto Maple Leaves, they contend -- and not think twice (and yes, as to the reason why, we do get it).
It's unlikely this edition of the Leafs will get further than the second round -- if they even do that -- so its legion of supporters is making the most of the team's rare success right now. It's only fitting their first-round opponents are the Boston Bruins, where lovable curmudgeon Don Cherry had his glory years as a coach. The Leafs match up fairly well against Boston, and they dream of a second-round pairing against Montréal, but for now, Toronto fans are thankful for what they have.
It's a low bar.
Meanwhile, out on Long Island, it had been thought for years that the NHL playoffs were only a rumor. In fact, some would expand that to say it had been thought that the NHL itself was only a rumor. Well, in the autumn of 2015, it might as well be fact; the Isles are leaving the antiquated Mausoleum to share the Nets' new digs in Brooklyn. Wacky owner Charles Wang -- he of the 15-year contract commitment to Rick DiPietro -- figures no one in Uniondale will notice the two lame-duck seasons there and, once the move is made, believes Island denizens will simply detour watch the team between leaving work and taking the train home. We'll see.
Flying under the radar, though, is a team that won't bring back memories of the Islander dynasty in the early 1980s, but have a solid game that is capable of making a run of it in any seven-game series. After having the welcome mat pulled out from under them in Pittsburgh, the Isles ramped it up. Non-fighter Kyle Okposo served notice that this group of playoff neophytes had a sharp learning curve and quickly showed this could be a competitive series, overshadowing the return of Sidney Crosby in the process.
No one will mistake the quasi-bucolic scenes in Uniondale for those at Maple Leaf Square, but the irony is their club could be the one to assume the 'surprise team' mantel that worked so well for the Los Angeles Kings last season. The veteran Penguins are a rightful top seed and thus a tall order, but if the young Isles find a way to pull off what would be an incredible upset, their chances of representing the East in the Stanley Cup Finals are as good as any other remaining contender.
If the Isles actually accomplished such a feat, it would turn today's strange sight into tomorrow's magical one.