The Toronto Maple Leafs are back in the playoffs. You may have missed it – it was a pretty small story that didn’t get much media attention. But it’s true. Tonight, the Leafs make their return to the post-season, facing the Washington Capitals in the opener of their first-round series.
So today, let’s mark the occasion by looking back on some of the Leafs’ best post-season moments of the last 30 years.
Yes, I can hear you now, mumbling a punchline about this being an awfully short list. And it’s true, the Leafs don’t exactly have the most distinguished track record of consistent post-season excellence. But they have had a few decent runs, more than enough to put together a top 10, even if we’re going to have to lean on a few distinct eras.
(Spoiler alert: There’s going to be a lot of 1993, and if you’re a Senators fan you should probably just hit the back button right now.)
To be clear, this is a list of the best Maple Leafs playoff games from the Toronto fan's perspective. But if you're one of those fans on the other side of the fence, don't worry – we'll be back next week with a top 10 list of the worst Leafs playoff games. By then, there's a good chance it will even have one or two Washington games on it.
But we'll save the misery for next week. For now, the Leafs and Capitals are tied and it's all about the good times. We'll start the countdown roughly 23 years ago…
No. 10: 1994 Western Conference semi-final, game six: Maple Leafs 3, Sharks 2 (OT)
The 1993–94 Leafs' playoff run has an odd legacy. It's one of their deepest in the last few decades, and featured several memorable moments. But it had the misfortune of coming directly after the 1992–93 season, so it's often remembered like a decent sequel that had no chance of living up to the original.
The second round of that 1994 playoffs served up a valuable lesson to Leafs fans who were starting to get a little cozy with playoff success: Beware the underdog. The Sharks had just pulled off a major upset over the Red Wings to win the first series in franchise history, and figured to be easy fodder for a veteran Leafs team. Instead, they took Toronto right to within one Johan Garpenlov crossbar of elimination.
A lucky Mike Gartner bank shot in sudden death extended the series, and the Leafs won game seven two nights later. Most playoff overtime wins are euphoria; this one was just relief.
No. 9: 2000 Eastern Conference quarter-final, game five: Maple Leafs 2, Senators 1 (OT)
The first playoff matchup in the Battle of Ontario seems almost quaint now. There was none of the bad blood or controversy that came to define the rivalry, and even diehard fans of both teams probably don't remember all that much about the six-game series.
But if there's an exception, it came in game five. The home team had held serve through the series, but the Senators were on the verge of stealing one, holding a 1–0 advantage in the dying minutes of what had been, in all honestly, a dreadfully dull game. That's when Steve Thomas scored late to tie it up, and the two teams proceeded to play a frantic overtime that went back-and-forth until Thomas ended it.
The Leafs finished things off in Ottawa in game six, with the last goal of Wendel Clark's career serving as the winner.