by Gord Stellick
Toronto -- As the Toronto Maple Leafs gear up along with 15 other NHL teams for the right to hoist the Stanley Cup, a test of endurance awaits them all.
The eventual Stanley Cup champion must be able to persevere and emerge victorious through four grueling series.
Toronto's memorable playoff run in 1993 seemed like a marathon with 21 playoff games in 42 nights. Imagine what it would be like to go one series better. A potential of 28 playoff games over at least 62 nights.
For the Leafs to achieve playoff success it means excelling at the obvious: Strong goaltending from (hopefully) Curtis Joseph but in a pinch Corey Schwab or Tom Barrasso.
The defence must bring its A game like Dimity Yushkevich did in 1999.
Mat Sundin has to carry Hart Trophy-type play into the playoffs.
Gritty performances from the likes of Gary Roberts are needed.
| Gary Roberts will be key in the playoffs. |
Graig Abel Photography
And the one variable that's hardest to control is injuries. That spelled the end of the Detroit Red Wings playoff run last spring after they lost Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan.
But all that aside winning the Cup will also require the emergence of one or two unlikely heroes. The good news for the 2002 Leafs is their depth has been proven over the latter portion of the regular season during an incredible string of injuries.
The fact that the lower profile players have risen to the occasion is the strongest indicator yet that this Toronto team may have what it takes to go all the way.
The Leafs have often had players step up in the past.
When one thinks of the Leafs Stanley Cup victory in 1967, the goaltending tandem of Johnny Bower and Terry Sawchuk and a capable veteran defence led by Tim Horton comes to mind. Up front it was the slick Dave Keon and the imposing presence of Frank Mahovlich.
Yet it was the line of Bob Pulford, Peter Stemkowski and Jim Pappin that finished as the team's top three playoff scorers. A young Mike Walton was third on the team in playoff goals with four (Pappin had seven and Stemkowski scored five) to be another hero for the Leafs.
The following season the Leafs were swept in four straight games. It would mark the end of the Punch Imlach era as he was fired as the Leaf general manager and coach immediately after their playoff elimination.