Volume 96, Issue 98
Thursday, April 3, 2003

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Another blue spring ahead

By Ryan Dixon
Gazette Staff

Spring brings about a tendency in London for motorists to run even more stop signs and red lights than usual. One breed of drivers in particular, easily identified by their blue and white flags flapping in the wind, really seem to have their focus elsewhere this time of year. Like four-year-olds at Christmas, Leafs fans are easily – and justifiably – distracted and excited come playoff time.

Let's cut to the chase; Leafs fans want more this time. None of this get to the second or third-round crap, before bowing out when the stakes are raised. Many Buds fans think this is the year they will finally have their day on Yonge Street, but alas, it's championships – not optimism – Toronto is traditionally short on. Like any open-minded college student, the Leafs' spring could go both ways. Here's how:

The Leafs will win the Eastern Conference if... Doctors everywhere stop focusing on SARS and come up with a pill that simultaneously heals current clinic regulars Glenn Wesley (broken foot), Gary Roberts (groin), Doug Gilmour (excessive life experience) and Mikael Renberg (hamstring), while ensuring the team doesn't run into another atrocious run of injuries like the one that crippled them last post-season. Toronto probably has the best mix of what it takes to win in the East – when they're healthy. They score more than New Jersey, most of their kids are better goalies than Philly's Roman Cechmanek and they've got Ottawa more spooked than a philosophy student applying for a job.

The Leafs will win the Stanley Cup if... Ya, ya, I said it. It technically could happen, but it will require a different doctor to deliver the Stanley's silver mug – Doctor Who and his time machine. Wouldn't it be wonderful if the Leafs could ice the '93 version of Gilmour, the '88 version of Phil Housley and discover a year when Alexander Mogilny actually cared about hockey? Don't put anything past that wily Doc.

The Leafs will give their fans that old familiar empty feeling if... Ed Belfour plays goal in the first round of the playoffs the way Curtis Joseph plays goal in the third round. Ten months ago, Toronto fans were wiping tears away with their over-sized novelty foam fingers when Cujo flew the coop for Mo' Town. Now you'd be hard pressed to find a sane Leafs fan that wouldn't take the technically sound style of Belfour over the fish-on-land approach of Joseph. The Leafs of 2003 finally have what they lacked when the team made it to the Stanley Cup semis in '93, '94, '98 and 2002 – a goalie who has won it all before. The Eagle is getting a little long in the claw, but he still has what it takes to get a team to the next level. Now he's got to do it.

Enough posturing – Gazette readers demand answers, so here's mine. The Leafs' blueline just can't cut it. Hey, I believe in Brian McCabe's mohawk as much as the next guy and, for a 12-year-old, Tomas Kaberle is as good a defenceman as you're ever going to find. However, the Leafs just don't have the studs back there to protect the Eagle's nest.

So who will win the East you ask? Ah, what the hell, somebody's got to believe in Ottawa. Go Sens Go.

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