Leafs Nation, the sovereign state of insanity within whose boundaries live the fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs, is on high alert today (Monday). After Sunday night's solid 2-1 victory in Game 6 versus the Boston Bruins, the team's loyal but success-starved followers are now three periods away from the Toronto version of a Stanley Cup victory, i.e. making the playoffs and not being eliminated in the first round.
As snarky as that last comment may seem, it's true. A victory in the first round would lead to massive celebrations, impromptu parades and possibly even unbridled optimism about the future. It's happened before, and it's happening again.
Fans have been gathering peacefully in numbers as large as 20,000 outside the Air Canada Centre before and during all the games in the series so far. During Sunday's broadcast, Don Cherry, a Boston Bruins supporter, congratulated the happy Leafs fans for not making like Montrealers or Vancouverites and resorting to indiscriminate rioting. "They're good Canadian hockey fans and they don't wreck things," he said.
Will the Maple Leafs pull off an upset victory and head into the second round of the playoffs, or will their season end tonight? Who cares. What really matters is how it will affect Leafs fans. Here are four possible outcomes and their impact on the psyche of Leafs Nation.
1. The Bruins jump out to a quick 3-0 lead and never look back. The final score is 7-1. The fans let out a collective sigh of resignation and say, Oh right. This is Toronto. Forgot about that for a sec. The loss seems, in retrospect, inevitable. People knew the team didn't have what it takes. Looking for solace, Leafs fans check to see whether the much-vaunted Blue Jays are running away with the American League East division in baseball, as predicted. A riot ensues.
2. The Leafs' momentum from Sunday's game carries over into Game 7 and they win 2-0 again. The city feels solid and strong. The victory seems, in retrospect, inevitable. People knew the team had it in them. Giddiness at being in the playoffs gives way to debilitating anxiety about the possibility that the Leafs are for real. People say, I think the Leafs might be for real to each other, and then fall silent and wish they hadn't said that.
3. Bruins win in overtime when the puck goes in off Tyler Seguin's skate in what may or may not have been a deliberate kicking motion. The conditions for rioting are created. There is a tense moment as the crowd of 20,000 outside the ACC bristles with anger and disappointment. Police riot-squad officers stand nearby, watching for the first signs of trouble. A sergeant, speaking through a bullhorn, says, Please leave immediately! Everyone leaves immediately, including the riot police, to whom the sergeant is obliged to say, I didn't mean you too!
4. The Leafs win in overtime. Phil Kessel scores the winner. Riots break out in Montreal and Vancouver. And Calgary and Winnipeg. And Edmonton. And Quebec City and Hamilton, as locals there attempt to persuade the NHL they are worthy of having a franchise.