The workers were all over Maple Leaf Square on Monday morning, getting the west side of the Air Canada Centre tarted up for its first NHL playoff game in nine years.
A stage was being set up in front of Real Sports, a bar and restaurant that was not part of Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment’s cash machine the last time their hockey team was in the playoffs. Before the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins collide in Game 3 of their first-round playoff series, there will be a party for the 2,800 fans the square can accommodate, complete with appearances by Leafs alumni like Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark and giveaways.
Then the game will be shown on the huge video screen attached to the ACC. A few steps away, all 1,000 seats on both floors of Real Sports will be filled by fans getting as close to their heroes as they can without actually seeing them in person.
Even Monday morning, several hours before fans will begin streaming toward the ACC, the sense of excitement was palpable. Aside from the workers bustling around the square, others inside the arena worked a couple of helium tanks, putting together rows of balloon structures. The media mob inside the Bruins and Leafs dressing rooms was twice its normal size, with dozens of reporters and camera operators jostling for position in front of the players.
The players acknowledged the heightened atmosphere but tried to distance themselves from it.
“No, I didn’t go on the street,” Leafs forward Joffrey Lupul said with a grin when he was asked if he noticed any excitement on Toronto’s streets.
But at the same time, it was clear the Leafs are looking forward to what they hope will be a raucous display from the normally reserved ACC crowd. Lupul said there should not be a danger of the Leafs getting too excited by the crowd and getting away from the type of game they play.
“It’s going to be a loud, rowdy atmosphere I’m sure but it won’t be special unless we go out and play the way we’re capable of,” Lupul said. “No, you just use it as a positive. It will be special night for a lot of guys playing their first playoff game at home in a building like this. You use that energy.”
No matter what happens Monday night or in Game 4 on Wednesday, MLSE will be a winner. Each playoff game is expected to produce a net profit between $1.5-million and $2-million, thanks to the 75-per-cent increase in ticket prices for the playoffs. Normally, a regular-season game produces gross revenue of about $2-million.
That money is part of what the NHL calls hockey-related revenue and is shared 50-50 with the players. But all the money taken in by a separate enterprise like Real Sports, for example, goes straight to MLSE. The longer the playoffs go, the more that rolls in, so don’t think the bean-counters are not rooting for the Leafs’ first Stanley Cup win since 1967, although that is decidedly a long-shot.
But down in the basement of the ACC it was still all about the game, which in this series means it’s all about Phil Kessel and Zdeno Chara. Bruins head coach Claude Julien, who was out-maneuvered by Leafs coach Randy Carlyle in Game 2 when it came to keeping Kessel away from Chara, the towering Bruins defenceman, had some fun with that topic at the morning skates.
“You want me to talk about Phil today, right?” Julien said during a pause. “Or not Phil, Tyler [Seguin]? Tyler's played well for us. He's a good player and everything else. I don't know what more I can say about the guy. He's played well so far in these playoffs even though he doesn't have a goal to show for it. He's responsible for one of the goals in the last game being in front of the net. When a skill player can do that, you're certainly proud of that.
“Those are things that we see in Phil. Phil. We're on the Phil subject here. In Tyler. That's basically what I've seen. Any Phil questions here?”
It was a great end to what have been mostly dry media sessions for the Bruins coach, who is loath to dish out information on any kind. However, it is certain defenceman Andrew Ference will be back in the lineup after a one-game suspension and the defence pair of Chara and Dennis Seidenberg will be reunited as a result.