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Mike Ulmer's Game Blog vs. Bruins

by Mike Ulmer / Toronto Maple Leafs
6:28 p.m. Pre-Game

The Boston Bruins are in town which makes things pretty handy since I decided, after much internal debate to to work today. Stay tuned for an uninterrupted string of pithy observations and cogent analysis.

But to Gate 1 for the latest premiere of And Another Thing. On AAT, we tackle another hot subject: how come there hasn't been a bald Stanley Cup winning captain since Mark Messier?

7:22 p.m.

Watch Ulmer's Rant

Nice working on the Leafs Nation Pre-Game show. Didn’t get the chance to use my premier thesis about bald captains: If Jean Beliveau looked like Carl Brewer, few would put him on the list of great captains ever. Does having hair make a player great? How can it be that no Stanley Cup winning captain since Mark Messier has been bald? So many questions.

Tight fit in the press box tonight. The scouts, usually nicely sectioned off on one end are now scattered. Scouts do not use binoculars. They chart line combinations and often leave before the game ends. They are a tiny, but omnipresent part of the circus and when the trade deadline is passed, the scouts go home and do whatever scouts do in the off-season. Scouts used to be former players but now, talent evaluators who never played NHL hockey are showing up, laptops in hand. Progress arrives in all forms, at all places.

7:52 p.m.

Bryan McCabe is credited with his fourth goal of the season when his power play shot bounces wildly past Boston goalie Tuukka Rask. The highlight of the play was Nik Antropov shucking off Peter Schaefer like he was a flea to keep the play alive. Much has been written and said about Antropov’s ascension. He has a mesmerizing game, without the skating. His playmaking instincts are pristine, his ability to disrupt the opposition’s offence with his stick is unrivalled among Leafs. What a twist if the oft-maligned Antropov emerges as the successor to the great Mats Sundin.

The goal is the highlight of a ponderous period in which the Maple Leafs outshoot Boston 13-7 and now, two games into a renewed defensive vigilance, the reality is settling in. The Leafs may win more but the idea that great defence produces great offence is piffle. Great defence often runs into great defence which begat a whole lot of nothing. People talk about entertainment value but winning is ultimately the most entertaining thing a team can do. No one, not one fan, in the history of the sport, has left an arena in which the home team won complaining about an overabundance of defence.

9:01 p.m.

The Bruins take a penalty for too many men on the ice. When will these guys learn?  ‘Too many men’ in Boston is like wide right in Buffalo, a symbol of a long period of futility. In Toronto, we do not laugh at these things. We commiserate.

Funny that it would come the day after they retired Larry Robinson’s jersey in Montreal. Robinson, of course, was an integral part of the Habs team that used a too many men penalty to eliminate the Bruins in 1979.

This is not irony, the most overused word in the English language save for the word like. If we lost a collective cup of oxygen every time the word ‘like’ was uttered, the earth would be barren of life in a week and teenagers would be the murderers.

No, this is a coincidence.

But what is a coincidence?

This is quite a point of contention. “In the magical universe, there are no coincidences and there are no accidents. Nothing happens unless someone wills it to happen.” wrote William S. Burroughs. He was an American beat poet, a movement which has aged rather badly. The interest in beat poetry rivals that of mime. The real father of mime, of course, was Marcel Marceau who died last September so I think this comes down to a couple of things, death and French people who, it should be noted, speak much the same language as those people taunting Don Cherry all those years ago but you don’t want to pull at that thread.

Mats Sundin cuts over centre and, as if no one has thought of it before, drills a shot toward the Boston net that may have hit a defenceman’s stick but certainly got by Rask. The Leafs look airtight enough. The only potential disclaimer, a spate of penalties.

Shouldn’t have written that. Bryan McCabe can’t clear the puck behind his net and Phil Kessel scores.

Ironic? No. Coincidence? Depends who you ask.

I run into Leafs radio anaylst Jim Ralph in the press box hallway. We get to talking about Eric Lindros, and how nice a story he has become. Giving, we agree, is the key. Lindros is working for the NHLPA and donated $5 million to a hospital in London.

“Happiness is in giving,” I say profoundly.

“If someone would give to me, I’d have enough to find out,” he said.

9:36 p.m.

After a sustained bit of pressure, the Bruins tie the game 2-2 on a nice feed from Marc Savard to P.J. Axelsson. It was Axelsson’s first of the year, a surprising turn for a usually productive player who is usually good for a dozen goals a year. The Leafs have outshot Boston 28-18 and outplayed them by a good margin but a tie it is. I am astoundingly bad at predictions, not even nearly almost psychic but I have a good feeling a Finnish goalie is going to win this baby.

Anaheim GM Bryan Burke has been working the press box. He tells people Teemu Selanne is so far under cover, he is thinking about putting his face on a milk carton.

More bad news. Chuck Kobasew grabs a loose puck in the slot and fires it past Toskala, short side with 3:31 to play.

The Leafs tortuous inability to post back-to-back wins reasserts itself again. Only once, when they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins and New York Rangers on the road in late October have the Maple Leafs turned the trick.

Kobasew gets an empty netter after Jason Blake can’t corral a puck in the Boston end.

Bright sides for Leaf fans, there were some. Jiri Tlusty, Antropov again and Tomas Kaberle were among the best Leafs. Toskala was sharp enough but a winnable game has been lost and a pretty solid effort ended up unrewarded.

Rask is the game’s first star. The talk show lines will be buzzing. At least I was right about the Finnish goalie.
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