A former third-round draft pick of the Red Wings, forward Mark Osborne spent parts of eight seasons with the Maple Leafs.
The last time the Red Wings and the Toronto Maple Leafs met in the Stanley Cup playoffs was in 1993, the final year of the Norris Division and just the fourth postseason meeting between the Original Six rivals since 1964.
For such a historic rivalry to go so long with so few postseason matchups, the ’93 series only served to bottleneck decades of aggression and frustration into seven games that lived up to expectations.
So it’s no surprise then that Mark Osborne – a former forward for both the Leafs and Wings – accredits the divisional semifinals as one of the best memories from his NHL career.
“It was everything,” Osborne said. “It was such an emotional series. In spite of the fact that the Red Wings had more points and home ice advantage, much like today’s playoffs, there was still, we thought, a lot of parity between a lot of teams. And we lost the first two games to the Red Wings at Joe Louis and then we came back home and won the next two.”
Leading the best-of-seven series 3-2, the Leafs led by coach Pat Burns couldn’t beat the Wings at the Maple Leaf Gardens in Game 6.
“Then it almost seemed as though the momentum of the series kept going back and forth,” Osborne said. “The Red Wings had it early, we took it over, and then when we could’ve closed off the series in Maple Leaf Gardens in Game 6, the Red Wings win. And now they’ve got the momentum going back home for Game 7.”
That momentum only took the Wings so far, as the Leafs tied the game in the third period, forcing the second overtime game of the series. Just over 2 ½-minutes into OT, Leafs forward Nikolai Borschevsky deflected a shot past Wings goalie Tim Cheveldae.
“It was kind of a storybook finish,” Osborne said, “because of the fact that we were able to tie the game in the third period and then win in overtime on Borschevsky’s goal.”
Toronto followed their win by defeating St. Louis in a seven-game series. But in yet another Game 7 in the Western Conference finals against Los Angeles, the Leafs couldn’t trump the Kings.
“That was certainly the beginning of a good run that we went on,” Osborne said. “We lost to the Kings in Game 7 of the finals, but that was certainly the beginning of a good story for the Maple Leafs.”
The ’93 playoff series occurred late in Osborne’s career, and despite his substantial time with the Leafs, it was with Detroit that the forward made a strong NHL debut in 1981-82. Coming off a Calder Cup win with the Adirondack Red Wings the previous season, Osborne led the Wings in scoring in his first NHL season.
“Although we did not make the playoffs,” he said, “having a chance to play every single regular-season game for the Wings and then to end up leading the team in scoring my first year, everybody was shocked, including myself.”
The forward scored 26 goals and 41 assists in his debut season, an impressive performance which prompted someone in the Wings’ organization to erect a poster of him in the locker room prior to the next season. Donning a wall beside a similar print of Wings great Gordie Howe, the poster incited more than a few jokes from Osborne’s teammates.
“I was quite frankly embarrassed,” he said. “I wasn’t a first-round pick, so to lead the team in scoring as a third-round draft pick, making the team right out of junior and all that stuff, it was obviously a dream come true.
“But then the following season to have a huge poster of myself beside Gordie Howe and knowing that Alex Delvecchio was there and all of these great Red Wings – that’s not me. I shouldn’t even be up there”
As a young player, Osborne took advice from seasoned veteran Walt McKechnie, another Wings forward, who spent time across the border playing for Toronto.
“Walt McKechnie, he kind of pulled me aside as a young junior going into pros,” Osborne said. “He said, ‘Listen you’ve got a good shot, go up and down your wing, shoot the puck.’ So he tried to help me in recognizing some things that I could do, but I was by no means a natural goal-scorer. I knew that I could contribute offensively, given opportunities to play with different players.”
It wasn’t long before Osborne had a chance to play with an entire team of different players. Management changes under new owner Mike Ilitch – combined with the draft acquisition of Steve Yzerman – prompted Osborne’s trade to the New York Rangers.
“The summer of ’83 when Jimmy Devellano called me after the NHL draft I thought he was going to tell me about drafting Steve Yzerman,” Osborne said. “Instead, he told me I was part of a big trade that went to the Rangers and so after two years, my time with Detroit was over.”
After four seasons in New York, Osborne was sent to Toronto, a dream come true for a player who had grown up watching the Leafs. Having been an important factor on an offensive line with Anders Hedberg and Mark Pavelich in New York, Osborne found a similar job on a Leafs’ line known as the GEM line along with teammates Ed Olczyk and Gary Leeman. Osborne registered a career-high 73 points in 1990.
After a brief stint with the Winnipeg Jets, Osborne returned to the Leafs, where he found a new home on an offensive line known for their toughness along the boards and their ability to draw penalties while scoring goals.
“When I got towards the end of my career and playing for Pat Burns, I got put on and we developed a checking line with Peter Zezel and Billy Berg for a number of years with the Maple Leafs,” Osborne said. “We got kind of pegged here in Toronto as a real good checking line that provided a Pat Burns-type of style, a real great third line.”
Osborne is still involved with the Leafs’ organization, where he covers pre- and post-game action with Leafs TV. Having just finished a term as the club’s alumni president last year, Osborne offered his take on the alumni game that will take place prior to the 2013 Winter Classic.
“The luxury that we have is that we’ve got an incredible group of potential players to play on this team in the outdoor game,” he said. “There’s going to be a lot of disappointed players because to bring back Mats Sundin, Borje Salming, Lanny McDonald, Darryl Sittler, Tiger Williams … we’ve got all these guys that can play from the ’70s, and then from Doug Gilmour, Rick Vaive, Wendel Clark, Darcy Tucker.
“The list goes on and on. It’s not going to be a shortage of trying to field a team.”