Skip to content
Many factors come into play as Maple Leafs get home chance to advance in Game 7


Content of the article

Here we go again.

Advertisement 2

Content of the article

A shot for the Maple Leafs to advance to the Stanley Cup playoffs, a shot to put behind them the pain of past playoff failures, a shot to take a big step in restoring post-season glory for a fan base that desperately needs it.

It can’t be just another hockey game Saturday night at Scotiabank Arena when the Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning get to work in Game 7.

Content of the article

It doesn’t matter what happened in the last five years when the Leafs couldn’t get past the first round.

If we’re being honest, it’s more like the last four years because no one expected the Leafs in 2017 to knock out the Washington Capitals in the first round. That the Leafs reached the playoffs that spring after finishing last overall in 2015-16 was an impressive achievement; taking the Caps, who had 23 points more than the Leafs in the regular season, to six games before being eliminated was a playoff bonus.

Advertisement 3

Content of the article

It’s different in 2022. This Leafs team isn’t like the others that have fallen in the recent past. When a club sets regular-season franchise records for points and wins and finishes with a 0.701 point percentage, also the best in team history, it achieves almost anything.

We apologize, but this video failed to load.

There’s another notable difference this year — the Leafs’ first-round opponent.

The Lightning are a team like no other the Leafs have faced in recent playoffs, having earned the right to stand out after winning the Stanley Cup in each of the past two years. Tampa is a deep club with stars in every position and hasn’t failed to make moves to stay in the hunt for a potential third Cup in a row.

If Game 7 were decided simply from battle scars earned in the recent playoffs, we’d infer that whatever Tampa has experienced winning two cups during a global pandemic would outweigh the Leafs’ first-round losses. against an upstart team from the Montreal Canadiens last year or a determined group from the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2020 bubble.

Advertisement 4

Content of the article

There will be a little more than that at stake on Saturday night. The Leafs shouldn’t need any extra motivation, but you have to understand that in the back of their collective mind, they’ll be thinking about the big lost opportunity if they left the ice on the wrong side of the final score.

The career seasons of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and many others throughout the list would have been largely wasted.

Consider that the victory window for this group is also closing a little faster than some would like to acknowledge. Matthews and Nylander will have two more years on their contracts, with three remaining for Marner and captain John Tavares.

A number of players, including some crucial ones, will be heading to unrestricted free agency this summer. This group includes goalkeeper Jack Campbell, attackers Ilya Mikheyev, Jason Spezza and Colin Blackwell as well as defenders Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin.

Advertisement 5

Content of the article

And it could turn out that the Lightning were the Leafs’ toughest opponent, certainly in the first two rounds. If the Leafs were to move on, neither the Florida Panthers nor the Capitals would pose the kind of challenge the savvy Lightning posed.

Like the Leafs, the Panthers are trying to fight their way into the playoffs. The Caps, if they were able to extend their streak with Florida on Friday night, are far enough away from their 2018 Cup title and lack the kind of goalie required to make a legitimate run this year.

We apologize, but this video failed to load.

Put us in the group that thinks if the Leafs win Game 7 and finally survive to see the second round for the first time since 2004, a big weight of pressure will come off the shoulders of that group.

Advertising 6

Content of the article

We wouldn’t say the Leafs would automatically be winners in the second round, even if they would play Game 1 early next week without the mental shackles that came with the first-round loss. That in itself could go a long way and be a determining factor in any success that may come.

But first, Game 7. The Leafs talked about earning the right with their play during the regular season to play at home in a deciding game. They get it Saturday night.

The opportunity presents itself to the Leafs. They are able to take full advantage of it. It’s up to them to prove it.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

Advertisement 1

comments

Postmedia is committed to maintaining a lively yet civil discussion forum and encourages all readers to share their views on our articles. Comments can take up to an hour to be moderated before appearing on the site. We ask that you keep your comments relevant and respectful. We have enabled email notifications. You will now receive an email if you receive a reply to your comment, if there is an update to a comment thread you follow, or if a user follows you comments. See our Community Guidelines for more information and details on how to adjust your email settings.




torontosun