DETROIT (PD) - Facing unprecedented pressure from the Toronto media and hockey establishment, the NHL today hit the "end season now button," followed by clicking "yes" on the "really end season now?" prompt, and awarded the 2008-09 Stanley Cup championship to the Toronto Maple Leafs (1-0-0). Vesa Toskala won both the Vezina and Hart trophies; Pavel Kubina was awarded the Norris; coach Ron Wilson was given Jack Adams, while the CN Tower was renamed "Ronnie's Spire." According to Anaheim GM/Secret Leafs Puppet Master Brian Burke: "Everything that has transpired has done so according to my design."
Pretty much all you needed to know about the David and Goliath nature of last night's 3-2 win by the Leafs over the defending Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings happened in the bowels of the arena.
Defenseman Luke Schenn -- the 18-year-old rookie -- calmly exchanged pleasantries with an 80-year-old gentleman by the name of Gordie Howe after the game. When everyone's telling you that you're too green or not ready or not worthy of sharing the moment with a more respected hockey entity, all you can do is try to act like you've been there. Schenn did, and so did his team last night against the Wings.
"I'm sure there's a lot of people with their crayons right now, writing down a parade route," cracked Wilson after the game. Well, not exactly.
Humility isn't often associated with Toronto fans when things go well, so it was nice to see hyperbole in check last night. Like over on Raking Leafs:
The physical play in all three zones is what really surprised me. Finishing the forecheck, stopping the skater in the neutral zone and putting the winger on his seat in the d zone is exactly what you want to do. If we see that 80% of the time I'd be amazed. And all of this play led to a rusty Red Wings squad give the puck up uncharacteristically often, all the way back to the D making a first pass in front of Osgood.
This wasn't simply a case of the Red Wings losing; the Leafs played a tenacious game, and Wilson deserves credit for getting them ready on a distracting evening in Detroit. Many of us probably felt there was a better chance the new "Knight Rider" would get better reviews than the Leafs would get after Game 1. Yet there's the Globe & Mail, saying this was a different team than we saw in the previous month.
One last note from last night: We hope Bettman was listening. Listening to the passion in that building as the Leafs fans invaded the Wings' night, creating the kind of combustible atmosphere you need for a memorable night at the rink. As Bill McGraw wrote in the Freep:
For much of the 20th Century, the Wings and the Leafs, their hometowns separated by only four hours on Highway 401, enjoyed a fine rivalry. But nowadays, thanks to the NHL schedule and division lineup, the Leafs rarely come to town and we have to watch Nashville and Columbus every other week. And you rarely see fans from Ohio and Tennessee acting like hockey is more important than football or NASCAR.
But the concept of giving fans what they want is a little too abstract for the NHL.