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Monday, May 6, 2013
Toronto is buzzing for the Leafs

By Pierre LeBrun

Joffrey Lupul
Joffrey Lupul and his mates have given Toronto reason to celebrate this spring.
TORONTO -- Nine years and two days.

That's how long it's been since Air Canada Centre hosted an NHL playoff game.

But heck, who's counting?

Proving just how loyal the NHL's largest fan base is, the incredible buzz leading up to the Maple Leafs' Monday home playoff date with the Boston Bruins is inescapable in these parts. All is apparently forgiven for the eight springs in which this building went dark.

"Being back in the playoffs is amazing and has re-energized our fans, our organization and the whole city," Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment President Tom Anselmi told ESPN.com on Monday morning.

"That intensity was dialed up another notch after Saturday's win, so the anticipation for tonight's game has the city bursting at the seams. Air Canada Centre and Maple Leaf Square will be rocking. Flags flying, horns honking, a playoff spring in Toronto is here, and I'm so proud of our players and so happy for our fans."

He's not kidding when he says horns are honking and flags are flying. I was back in town for just a few hours Monday morning and couldn't miss the unmistakable buzz. This city is ready to party.

"It’s going to be a loud and rowdy atmosphere, but it won't be as special if we don't go out and play the way we’re capable of," star Leafs winger Joffrey Lupul said after the morning skate Monday in a home dressing room packed to the gills with media.

Toronto is a city in need of something to cheer for. The NBA's Raptors have become a complete afterthought in this town after yet another mediocre, non-playoff season.

MLB's Blue Jays had fans downright giddy in the lead-up to this young season thanks to a busy offseason that saw a number of aggressive moves make the team one of the early favorites, fueling hopes of a division title. Alas, April was a disaster, the ballclub unraveling quicker than a cheap suit.

Toronto FC of the MLS hasn't done anything, really, ever.

It should be noted that the CFL's Argonauts are the reigning Grey Cup champions, but although the CFL remains strong in most of the country, it just doesn't have much of a pulse in Canada’s largest city.

So yes, the Leafs making the playoffs and getting a road split in Boston against the favored Bruins certainly has this city rocking.

"The city's obviously extremely excited," Leafs captain Dion Phaneuf said after the skate.

"We've got the best fans in the National Hockey League; we've got an unbelievable following not just in Toronto but throughout the league. It's obviously amped up in the playoffs. It's an exciting time for us as players and an exciting time for the city. But as players, we've done a good job of keeping things inside the room."

The reality is, no other team in this city comes close to mattering as much as the Original Six club.

This is a Leafs town. Not so much a hockey town, but a Leafs town.

Don't even try to imagine what would happen here if the Leafs knocked out the Bruins in the first round. They might hear the car horns blaring all the way in Buffalo.

Let's not discount what this means financially to MLSE, either. It's believed the Leafs will net between $1.5 million and $2 million in profit per game this spring. I repeat: per game.

Of course, that's good news for the 700-odd players across the league, too, because they get a 50 percent cut of hockey-related revenue, per the CBA. "Go Leafs Go" should be the NHLPA's Twitter handle in the playoffs.

But forget the money and get back to the hockey. The Stanley Cup playoffs are better with the Toronto Maple Leafs in the mix.

Even a die-hard Senators fan who professes to hate absolutely everything about the Leafs told ESPN.com before Sunday’s game in Ottawa, "It's more fun with the Leafs in it. I still want them to lose, but the playoffs are better when they make it."

The long wait ends Monday about 7:15 p.m. ET. It's going to be electric. And for some fans, perhaps medicinal.

Spring hockey? Really? In Toronto?

"The fans here have been waiting for it for a long time," Phaneuf said. "And as players, we're real excited to play in front of them. It should be fun."