Did you catch the exact moment the Toronto Maple Leafs turned from being students of the game into big, raging beasts who smash anything? Are you confused?
In my last article, Maple Leafs Blow Incredible Performance, I detailed how watching the Leafs’ Game 3 performance was reminiscent of watching the Incredible Hulk. The Leafs looked like the big green guy for the first half of the game. They were big, fast and fierce. Just like in the comics, once the danger had passed, Dr. Bruce Banner reappears – and we know he is no match the Columbus Blue Jackets. This story was a creative attempt at colourful imagery to describe the events. However, I may have been right!
The Maple Leafs Need to be Challenged
The precise moment when the Hulk appeared was when Dr. Banner, played by Morgan Rielly, had the puck stripped and seconds later, it was in the back of the net. This gaffe put the Blue Jackets up 3-0 with just 5:42 left in the game. Rielly skated to the bench and proceeded to kick, punch and pummel his stick. In the 1970’s version of The Hulk, Dr. Banner would often say, “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
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Rielly was angry. Not at his stick, but at how he’d been made a fool of by Nick Foligno who stole the puck, passed it to Boone Jenner for what should’ve been the nail in the Leafs coffin. The replay showed Rielly was actually sitting on his butt as Jenner skates in and scores.
Rielly rage must have reverberated through the entire team. Just like in the Marvel comics, the unbelievable happened. The Leafs had become the big green guy, and they were smashing anything in their way. You know the rest, three goals to force overtime. In the extra frame, guess who, Rielly gets tripped up by Foligno and crashes into the boards. Rielly stayed down for a few seconds, before getting up to give the Blue Jackets captain a piece of his mind as Foligno went to the penalty box. What did he say to Foligno? I’m sure it must’ve been “Don’t make me angry. You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”
A Historical Comeback
But the damage was done, the Maple Leafs were fired up again, and seconds into the power play, Auston Matthews snapped home the winner. In doing so, the Maple Leafs became the first team in NHL history to win after trailing by three goals or more in the final five minutes of an elimination playoff game. Do you see why this story is getting the comic book treatment? These types of things just don’t happen.
Jason Spezza, who did his best to wake up the Hulk with a rare fight, was asked if he’s ever seen anything like that game.
“I’ve never been part of anything like that,” the NHL veteran said. “With the firepower, we have with these guys waiting to put the puck in the net we are never out of it. There is a great sense of belief in our group. We stuck with it the whole way got some big goals by some big players.”
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Did he say big players? Like Lou Ferrigno big? This article is written in jest, but the point is that the Leafs seem to play better when challenged. During the regular season, they performed better against top-tier teams but lost to teams lower than them. When Jake Muzzin got injured at the end of Game 2, they played fantastic hockey during the first 30 minutes of Game 3. If this thesis is correct, then it’s a good sign for Leafs Nation. Toronto has nothing but challenges ahead, starting with Game 5 against Columbus.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.