Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Toronto Maple Leafs 4 at Boston Bruins 3 - January 14, 2014

The first ever live sporting event that I can remember attending was the Toronto Maple Leafs defeating the Boston Bruins 11-4 on February 7, 1976 at Maple Leaf Gardens. Darryl Sittler scored a still-standing NHL record 10 points and I guess I figured that the Leafs would be a very successful franchise and one that I should follow for the next 40 years to enjoy similar exciting experiences. We all know how that ended up.

Anyway, I had never again seen these two teams do battle, so as I make my way towards Club 122, I wanted to see the Leafs in Boston despite their abysmal recent record against the Bruins (only 1 win in the last 12 regular season meetings). I planned to see this game as soon as the schedule was released, and when the scheduling gods gave New England a home playoff game on Saturday, a short road trip to Boston was the result. I saw the Celtics and Rockets on Monday as well, and on Tuesday made the return trip to the TD Garden, starting with a visit to the Boston Sports Museum.

Boston Sports Museum

Seemingly a secret to many visitors with just one sign posted in the TD Garden, the Boston Sports Museum takes up two floors in the arena itself. I should note that the Garden consists of 9 levels, starting with the train station below it, which is on level 1. Level 4 is the main concourse known as the Loge, levels 5 and 6 are the club and suite sections which contain the sports museum, level 7 is the Balcony, while level 8 is the Promenade seating. I guess level 9 provides access to the rafters.

Buy a $10 ticket at the regular box office and a lady will come down to let you in the secret door, which has no outside handles - they really don't want anyone getting in here! You are led up a flight of stairs to get to level 3 and then the slowest elevator in the world takes you to level 5. From here, you are free to roam both levels of the club, which contain plenty of memorabilia and photos, such as this famous shot below. Can you name the Blue who tripped Orr?

Although the displays are nice, if you are not a Boston fan, you will get jealous after a while, especially at the recent history, which has seen the teams combine for eight titles since 2001. Still, it is well worth the admission price because you can enter the seating bowl and stand in an empty arena, something that is not that easy to do elsewhere.

There were some kids playing hockey as well and I stopped to watch for a bit. The white team dominated the black team and were leading 4-0 when I left. The scoreboard even had Toronto and Boston on it and Toronto led 4-0! Turned out to be a bit of a happy harbinger.

So if you are in Boston and planning to see a game at TD Garden in the evening, get there around 3 and check out the Sports Museum first. It closes at 4, giving you a couple of hours to enjoy one of the nearby bars before returning to watch the game.

TD Garden

I wrote about this after the Celtics game, but am including some pictures from this visit, mostly taken while the arena was empty.

This presents the banners more completely

Evolution of early logos

Full first name included - a nice touch

Love the seating pattern here

Good view of the levels. Balcony is not that far away from the ice.

View from next to the visitors' bench, you can stand here during warmups

Along the balcony concourse, you will find this fearsome fellow

All I can say is that this arena is better designed for hockey and one of the best NHL rinks that I have visited. Tickets are overpriced though, with upper deck seats at $96 the cheapest at the box office. Season tickets that are not sold on TicketExchange return to the box office, so check TicketMaster on the day of the gamel we found two in row 3 of section 324 which was the place to sit as the Leafs scored 3 of their 4 on that side. Or am I spoiling things?

The Game

Remember that 1 win in 12 stat I mentioned above? That little nugget didn't include last season's playoffs, when the Leafs blew a 4-1 lead in Game 7 of their first round series. The plus side is that Boston fans are really nice to Leaf fans, since they blew a similar lead late in Game 6 of the Final, allowing Chicago to take the Stanley Cup.

Still, I had low expectations as the Leafs had recently lost 7-1 to the Rangers and 6-1 to the Hurricanes, only ending a horrible 4-game losing streak with a shootout win over New Jersey on Sunday. The team is usually outplayed and outshot and relies on goaltending to stay close. When the goalie is off, the result is not pretty. Jonathan Bernier (above) was the starter and he was tested early when Jarome Iginla came in on a breakaway in the second minute. Bernier stoned him and I breathed a sigh of relief, but that didn't last long as Brad Marchand banged home a rebound just 3:38 in to open the scoring.

I slumped back, fully expecting a blowout, but just two minutes later Tyler Bozak (taking the opening face-off above) was all alone to the left of Tuukka Rask (below) and had no trouble snapping home a rebound in what appeared to be a replay of Boston's first goal. I stood and cheered, anticipating some nasty words or a puck at my head, but I mostly received looks of sympathy.

Those looks seemed appropriate when Boston regained the lead on a fluke wraparound goal by Patrice Bergeron that was reviewed and upheld just past the halfway point of the period. Again Bozak responded about two minutes later, notching a power play marker after some superb passing from linemates Phil Kessel and James Van Riemsdyk.

In the second period, the Leafs took the lead when Rask let a Jake Gardiner wrist shot get by him for the only goal of the frame. When Van Riemsdyk beat Rask with another stoppable shot a minute into the third, the fans turned silent and my cheers were not so easily tolerated. The gentleman next to be informed me that Rask had been in a terrible slump lately, so fans were apparently not Tuuuuuuu-ing him after all. Whatever the case, the Leafs had a 2 goal lead and 19 minutes left.

Of course, they gave up an easy goal just before the midway point when Gardiner made a silly defensive zone giveaway that Daniel Paille gladly accepted, passing to Gregory Campbell who backhanded one high to the glove past a surprised Bernier.  I expected a replay of that terrible Game 7 meltdown, and the Leafs certainly did their part, giving up plenty of chances as most of the play was in the opposite end (above). But Bernier stood tall and a Boston penalty drawn by Nazem Kadri (below) sapped the Bruins a bit.

Still, the last two minutes were hectic as Boston pushed for the tying goal, but it could not be found and the Leafs escaped with another win while being gruesomely outshot, 41-26 in this case. Goaltending and special teams were the difference, as Toronto went 2/5 on their power play while denying Boston on their three attempts with the man advantage. Meanwhile, the slumping Rask let in two easy ones while Bernier made the stops when it counted, leading to a regulation road win for Toronto, just the 4th I have witnessed live! What a way to end the trip to Boston with one of the most enjoyable games that I have had the pleasure to witness.


TD Garden's naming rights are owned by a subsidiary of Toronto-Dominion Bank. The Leafs should own this place!

Late in the game, Van Riemsdyk was hit hard on a rush while trying a spin move, and his left glove went flying into the stands. I happened to take a picture at that precise moment which you can see above, the glove is already in the seats. Whoever caught it threw it back like a home run ball at Wrigley. No idea if that fan got thrown out, but the glove remained on the ice for the next couple of minutes, until there was a stoppage.

Next Up

I'm visiting the New York Knicks tomorrow for Stadium Journey and then flying to Denver for a nice 4-game road trip including the AFC Championship and the Leafs and Avalanche. Quite a fortunate coincidence that the Leafs are visiting the same city just days after an NFL playoff game is held there, more proof that the sporting gods really, really like me. Or they really, really hate my readers. Check back for updates on that trip next week!



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