Ah, narratives. Sports folks -- the media and fans, in particular -- just love a good narrative. As I've written about before (more than once), a game is about what happens on the ice, sure, but it's also about the storylines that surround it. What's that, you say -- there aren't any obvious, organic stories, no tales of ancient combat or historical association for a given game? No problem, say commentators on both sides of the contest. Building narratives out of very little is, in many ways, part of the job description.
...of course, that job is a whole lot easier when there *are* organic stories to be told about the history of two teams facing off against each other. No one has to work hard to create a narrative about a Bruins-Habs game, for example -- the framework surrounding the history of those two teams is already rich (and nasty, and delightful).
But we're not here to talk about that storied rivalry, oh no. The Habs have their own playoff narrative to create and live through in their upcoming series against Ottawa. No, it is left to us to consider instead another team whose history with the Bruins comes pre-stocked with mythos and schadenfreude and stories both old and new.
Yes, I'm talking about you, Toronto Maple Leafs.
We've looked at some of the early history between these two teams before, but now it's the playoffs. Screw all that regular season bull, let's get it going with OTBH: Postseason history edition!
The Leafs and the Bruins have quite a bit of history with one another, and though recent shenanigans (*coughKesselcough*) are going to get much of the press as we traverse this here playoff series, you know how we roll here at OTBH: we like our narratives olde. And, er. Tymey.
With that in mind, allow me to direct your attention to the Stanley Cup Playoffs of 1933. The Bruins had been in the League for eight years by the 1932-1933 season, and the Leafs had been the Leafs for six (though the franchise had been around much longer). As luck would have it, however, the two had managed to never meet in the postseason. The previous year, the Leafs had won their first ever Stanley Cup by sweeping the Rangers -- the Bruins, on the other hand, had missed the post-season altogether.
(Fun historical side note the first: because the circus had been booked into Madison Square Garden in April of 1932, the Rangers and Leafs had to play game two of the best-of-five series in Boston -- and Bruins season ticket holders had first dibs on tickets to the game. Wacky fun times!)
The Bs rallied in 1932-1933 though; they won the American division handily, and in doing so secured a bye into the semi-finals of the playoffs. Also winning their division were the Toronto Maple Leafs, who then also had a bye. And so the Black and Gold and Blue and White waited patiently while the Maroons, Red Wings, Canadiens, and Rangers battled it out in the quarterfinals, knowing that their own inaugural playoff matchup awaited.
The series began at the Garden on March 25, as the defending Cup champs looked to reverse their season luck in Boston -- apparently, the Maple Leafs of 1933 had some of the same issues more recent squads have had in beating Boston at home:
Just what hoodoo hovers about the Maple Leafs whenever they play the Bruins in Boston had yet to be determined. Conn Smythe and his mauling Maple Leads would like nothing better than to hand the Bruins setback in this metropolis, but thus far this season the team has been able to do so.
--Boston Globe, March 25, 1933
Regular season dominance and a sparkling end-of-season record (the Bs won their last 10 games headed into the post-season) combined with a spate of Toronto injuries made the Bruins collective favorites, though the season series between the two had been hard fought. As it turned out, those tightly played regular season games were a harbinger of things to come -- the first game went to overtime tied at 1-1, and only after 14 minutes into OT did Marty Barry win the game for the Bruins.
(Historical side note the second: during the third period of game 1 of the series, Boston Globe Bruins reporter John Hallahan -- a gentleman whose writing has featured heavily in OTBH -- passed away suddenly at his brother's home. He was listening to the game on the radio at the time -- following the ups and down of the Bruins until the very end.)
Game two was more of the same, as overtime was once again necessary. The Bruins finally fell 1-0, after
75 minutes of as superb an exhibition of hockey as has ever been seen at the North Station rink, as rough as any real sport can be with superlative defensive play the standout feature.
--Boston Globe, March 29
The Bruins and Leafs continued to trade games, the Bruins winning game 3 (in overtime, once again), while Toronto took game 4 (in a game described by reporters as nothing short of a ‘brawl').
Finally, finally it came down to an all or nothing game 5 -- the Bruins had home ice, but the Leafs had proven there would be no easy victories in this series. Naturally, a playoff matchup this tightly contested would not be decided in regulation, and it took 165 motherfucking minutes before Toronto scored the game's lone goal. They played hockey for almost three hours. Three Hours! Art Ross and Conn Smythe had agreed to settle the damn thing by a coin flip, it had gone on so long (NHL president Frank Calder vetoed that idea, and good on him -- those dudes deserved to play that game out ‘til the end). Someone floated the idea of simply pulling both goalies and having at it. Hardly a soul had left the Garden -- not even those people in the standing room only section, who had been on their feet for upwards of four hours.
Five games. Four OT games. A game 5 that required six overtime periods. If that doesn't count as a series for the ages, then frankly, I don't know what does.
Toronto went on to get their butts kicked by the Rangers in the Final (retribution for the previous year's defeat, I presume) but the emotional and physical battle fought over the course of those five games between the Bruins and Leafs was a story that was tough to match. Both teams received a standing ovation from the crowd at the Garden upon the conclusion of game 5, and it's not hard to see why -- someone has to win a game, that's simply the way of sports, and if you're gonna lose, fight like hell the whole way. Both teams did exactly that. Extraordinary.
In the coming days and weeks, we're all going to collectively want to punch ourselves in the face after the billionth mention of the Kessel trade or the Raycroft for Rask debacle. Those are clearly relevant, if extremely over-discussed (seriously, the horse is so, so dead, stop beating the crap out of it) pieces of the Bruins' history with the Leafs. There's so much more, though -- and 1933 was only the beginning of a playoff story between the two that continues in Boston tomorrow night.
May this series live up to that earliest one between these two teams. I, for one, cannot fucking wait.