A thousand monkeys poking at a thousand typewriters might, given enough time, compose the complete works of Shakespeare, but not even such a diligent menagerie could ever script a crueler heartbreak than the one which befell the Toronto Maple Leafs this past Monday night. It was not exactly a tragedy and not exactly a comedy, but more of a vicious joke, as black as humor ever gets. The set-up: seven seasons outside the playoffs, an unexpected run of luck, a shocking comeback from a 3-1 series deficit, a 4-1 lead in the third period of game seven, a scrappy underdog team poised to do the unthinkable and make the second round over the bent backs of a feared League power. It was the beginning of a great, classic sports tale of the sort that could win over even the hardest haters. It was the opening to the story that might have made the Leafs, once more and against all odds, Canada’s team. The punch line: three Bruins goals in the last ten minutes, two of them at 6-on-5 in the final heated two, topped off with the overtime winner.
Such a comeback is virtually unheard of in hockey, which despite the speed of its pucks and players tends to be a low-scoring, defensive sport. A three-goal lead with ten minutes remaining is as close to insurmountable as a lead gets; according to one analyst’s calculations, one might expect to see a team in such a position lose a game seven once every 159 years- which makes sense, since it’s never happened even once before in the entire near-hundred years of the NHL. The Bruins victory, then, is not merely unexpected. It is the realization of something so improbable that it would have been considered functionally impossible, like the sun coming up in the West* or the seas turning yellow. It was like being kicked in the nuts by a unicorn.