Thursday, May 2, 2024

The Maple Leafs have come back. Now, for once, it's time to finally finish the job

With the obituaries already written and the pink slips all printed, the Toronto Maple Leafs have flipped the script. After dropping three of the first four games and losing their best player in the process, the Leafs have gutted out a pair of 2-1 wins to force the Bruins into a nightmare Game 7.

Are you surprised? You shouldn’t be.

The conventional wisdom is that this version of the Leafs team disappears when the going gets tough. But the conventional wisdom is wrong.

Never let facts get in the way of a narrative, I suppose, but let’s think back to some times during the Shanahan era when this Leafs team had their backs against the wall.

In 2018, against these same Bruins, a young Leafs team fell behind 3-1 in the series, outclassed and outscored 15-5 in the losses. They fought back, winning two straight to force a Game 7 back in Boston, then took a lead into the third period.

In 2020 against the Blue Jackets, they were facing elimination and trailing 3-0 with four minutes left. That’s as close to being done as you can get in the tight-checking NHL, but the Leafs didn’t quit, scoring three quick goals to force overtime, where Auston Matthews won it to force a deciding game.

In 2021 against Montreal, they watched their captain suffer a horrifying injury early in Game 1, then lost an understandably low-energy game. Rather than look shaken, they took over the series, winning three straight games and making the Habs look overmatched.

In 2022 against Tampa Bay, they played their worst game of the series in Game 4, losing an embarrassing 7-3 laugher that seemed set to tilt the series. They trailed heading into the third period of Game 5, but rallied back to win, taking a 3-2 series lead.

Even last year against Florida, trailing the series 3-0 and forced to give an inexperienced rookie his first career playoff start in a must-win, the Leafs played their best game of the series, grinding out a 2-1 road win to stay live.

The patten has been clear. Time and again, these Maple Leafs are counted out. And time and again, they defy expectations. They get back up off the mat. They look like a different team.

And then, well, you know what happens next.

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