Once again, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves facing a daunting Game Seven situation in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The first round and the Toronto Maple Leafs have become synonymous with each other over the past few years, with the team unable to find a way to progress despite numerous opportunities.
In this series alone, against long-time bitter rivals the Montreal Canadiens, the Leafs could have ended things in Game Five after taking a commanding 3-1 series lead off the back of some stellar performances – including a 4-0 shutout victory in Game Four.
Two games later, in which the Canadiens turned things up a gear and battled to consecutive overtime victories, the Leafs find themselves staring down a situation that has plagued them since 2004 – elimination from the post-season at the first hurdle.
The series began in truly difficult fashion for the Leafs, seeing captain John Tavares taken to hospital after an unfortunate collision left him with a reported concussion. The atmosphere after the injury showed that the Leafs could not shake the mental image of Tavares getting hurt, and it allowed the Canadiens to claim a crucial victory in the opening game.
The Toronto Maple Leafs rallied for three consecutive victories, primarily off the back of a red-hot William Nylander, and Jason Spezza turning back the clock in front of goal. The same can not be said for the team’s primary stars, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
The two so far have combined for just two goals, having four total points each, and have looked shadows of the players they were during a dominating run in the regular season.
If the Leafs have any hopes of overcoming the odds, and putting the demons of their last few early playoff eliminations behind them, it will be because of a significant turnaround in performances from Matthews and Marner.
Goaltender Jack Campbell has done everything he possibly can to keep the Leafs battling, with an impressive .937 save percentage and a 1.77 goals against average, allowing them to fight back from a 3-0 deficit in Game Five and push into overtime in both Games Five and Six.
It’s time for the Toronto Maple Leafs skaters, especially at the top end of the ice time, to step up and play clinical hockey that eradicates the fears of every single Leaf fan out there.
It’s time for the Leafs to show the world that they can get beyond the first round and win a Game Seven matchup for the first time since beating the Ottawa Senators before the 2004/05 lockout.
Time for excuses is over. It’s time for the Toronto Maple Leafs to come together as a unit and put in the biggest performance of their season; take down the Canadiens and finally give fans renewed hope that they aren’t going to be stuck in first round purgatory for the rest of eternity.