Not Where We Thought We’d Be

by | Apr 30, 2023

Not Where We Thought We’d Be

by | Apr 30, 2023

Toronto, ON—Sometimes real life interferes with the best-laid plans. Such is the case with the Los Angeles-Edmonton NHL series being played out this week. Inside Hockey happily reported on the third and fourth games, played in LA, bringing you on-the-spot coverage of the Kings as we have done for fifteen years and two Stanley Cups. I was all primed to do game six, happening a full three days off after the prior game, played Tuesday night in Edmonton.

Alas, a family emergency made it necessary to miss the game. But the circumstances put me on the spot of another critical hockey event—the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first playoff series win in nearly twenty years.

Toronto exploded immediately, people hanging out of cars as they cruised and waved Leafs Nation flags. The news coverage on TV was full of it, just as the sports coverage on TSN and SportsNet on the afternoon of the game had been frantically nervous, people registering that should Toronto lose the game, they would be set up to lose yet another series versus their now arch-enemy, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As I write this, it’s not time for a glimpse at the Sunday morning Toronto dailies, but I’m making the call on what they’ll say. The headlines on the front pages will be about hockey, and they’ll be one of two things—either coverage that makes it appear that the Stanley Cup has already been awarded here, or coverage that highlights the nervous nature of the whole thing.

Why is this so important? You can’t understand if you’ve never lived here. Hockey in Montreal might be a religion, the Montreal Canadiens greats its sacred saints. Toronto Maple Leafs hockey is an obsession, a topic that can dominate a sports section in the middle of July. Believe it.

What does this win project for the Leafs’ next series, taking place starting soon? Attention. More hand-wringing. Endless analysis of each player matchup at all positions. It should be fun to spectate on, no matter where one is at the time.

In the meantime, LA from a distance revealed a game that looked much like others in this series, Edmonton dominating early and LA not giving up hope, each team retaining a scoring touch which, at least for LA, was not always how they played games in the regular season.

The superstar, McDavid, scored with less than a minute and a half expired. The Kings tied the game. Edmonton went up 2-1 before period one was through. Gabe Vilardi rolled a puck wide of the post with about a minute to go, or it would have been tied.

On the intermission report prior to P2, Kelly Hrudey said that if a third goal was scored on LA’s Joonas Korpisalo, he would pull him, no question. That yank didn’t happen, though the Oilers scored their third goal just shy of five minutes into period two. Barely four minutes after that, the Kings had tied it, 3-3. Their second and third goals had both been on the power play. Edmonton had one extra-man goal to this point, their third.

Meanwhile, Stuart Skinner in the Edmonton net was magical, first on a toe save on a one-timer from Kevin Fiala, and next on a blocker save on Trevor Moore. Good thing, too, because he made a massive bungle in period three. Wait for that.

Period three would open with Edmonton up, 4-3 on the second Klim Kostin goal of the evening, scored at the midway point of period two. The Kings pressed. They killed a penalty, but while doing so, they tied the game.

It was the kind of goal that will get on the highlights and make its way to the perpetual blooper reel. Had it been what made the difference—look out, Stuart Skinner. The Edmonton goalie misplayed a puck in the crease and gave it away to Danault, who was rushing in on the PK, taking a chance that a mistake might happen. Did it ever. Skinner gave it right to him, and he fired it up high behind the diving goalie. 4-4. The Kings had held on, come back. They were rolling.

It only later became apparent that this was not entirely a gaffe on Skinner’s part, but that the stick he was using had a cracked blade (goalies can play with a broken stick per the rules, unlike “out” players) and that this made the puck roll under his attempt to shoot it forward.

LA backed up this goal with a strong shift with about eight minutes to go. No scoring, but Quinton Byfield got a pass from Mikey Anderson that put him at the edge of the crease with a puck. It ended up up and out of play. The Oilers then pressed with a good shift of their own. Then the Kings attacked, but only one guy at a time, so not dangerous.

Then with three minutes and a bit to go, Kailer Yamamoto floated a puck from inside the blue line, and it got past Korpisalo. 5-4. Edmonton had beaten the Kings for the second year in a row. On TV, the Canadian broadcast, people in all sorts of attire including bathing suits frolicked in front of Edmonton’s arena.

And out on the streets near where I was observing, Torontonians were three hours into a celebration of their own.

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