COULDA, SHOULDA, WOULDA….
It is a number that all Leafs fans hold in such high regard. Â It means so much to so many.
1967. The summer of love.
1967. The summer of hate too. Race riots everywhere.
April 29, 1967. Curtis Joseph is born.
Three days later, May 2, 1967, Â the Toronto Maple Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
That day is still etched in my mind. George Armstrong hoisting the cup proudly as his teammates gather round him. The parade. The players sitting on convertibles, riding high and proud. The crowds, the celebrations.
So this got me to thinking, in my own quirky way.
Was there a season in the ensuing 42 years, in which the Leafs could have, or should have, won the cup again?
Well, several dismal years followed the cup win, with the Leafs finally getting a taste of long playoff life in 1976, when they took the defending champion Philadelphia Flyers to seven games. That final game at the Spectrum was a sight to behold, and the Leafs, although they got beat 7-3, came very close to upsetting the top team in the league. As it was, the Flyers dispatched Boston in the semi-finals before succumbing to the birth of the Canadiens dynasty, as the Habs won the Cup.
Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda.
One of the best runs at the cup that the Leafs had in the past 40-some years, occured in 1978. With Roger Nielson at the helm, Toronto finished a strong third behind Boston and Buffalo in the Adams division, with 92 points. They disposed of the L.A. Kings in two straight games with a combined score of 11-3. Then came the series to end all series. The upstart New York Islanders, trying to create a dynasty of their own, took the first two games at home and appeared to have the Leafs on the ropes. But back in the friendly confines of Maple Leaf Gardens, Toronto responded with two wins of their own to tie the series. The teams traded home wins, and then the Leafs did the unthinkable and thatâ€™s win the series, in overtime, on the Island. The hero was Lanny McDonald.
They were poised and ready to return to the promised land.
Unfortunately, someone forgot to relay that message to the defending champs in Montreal, who disposed of the Leafs in four straight games in the semi-finals.
Coulda, Shoulda, Woulda.
After the 78-79 season, the Leafs were basically terrible for over 10 years with numerous coach and player changes.
Then came that magical year of 1993. The arrival of Doug Gilmour the previous season brought hope to Leafland as they made a good regular season run.
They opened the playoffs against the Red Wings, who had finished just ahead of Toronto. And in true Leaf fashion, they won it in game seven, in Detroit on Nikolai Boreschevskyâ€™s overtime goal.
Then Cujo and his St. Louis Blues took them to seven games in the second round, before the Leafs dispatched them with a 6-0 win in game 7.
Wayne Gretzky and his L.A. Kings were the oppponents in the third round and the Leafs looked poised to advance to the Stanley Cup finals for the first time since 1967, holding a 3-2 series lead, heading to LA for game six. The Kings won that one in OT by a 5-4 score then came back to Toronto and beat Leafs 5-4 again to take the series and advance to the finals where they were beaten by Montreal in five games.
Could Shoulda Woulda.
How close did the Leafs come in 1993? Very!
Go back to game six and Gretzkyâ€™s (albeit accidental) high stick of Doug Gilmour in the third period. The infraction drew blood, so really should have been an ejection from the game for the â€œGreat Oneâ€, but he didnâ€™t even get a penalty for it. Then he went on to score the winning goal in overtime and send the series back to Toronto tied 3-3.
Could Shoulda Woulda
The Leafs also had a decent run in 2002, winning a couple of 7-game barn-burners over the Islanders and then Ottawa, before bowing out to the Carolina Hurricanes in round three.
Could, Shoulda, Woulda.
Four years that the spell of 67 could have been broken.
And the question is…
Would we be as desperately in need of a cup run today, if we had won it on those four occasions?
Something to ponder as we sit on the outside looking in at yet another playoff season.