The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004, but this is certainly not the first time they’ve been close since then. In the last five years, the Leafs have lost the final deciding game of a series five times and have an overall record of 0-9 in games that they can close their opponent out. Every year, people say the same thing about Toronto, but this season there might actually be something different about this team.
The way the Maple Leafs won games three and four in Tampa Bay is the biggest indicator of the change in this team. Although they’ve always been a skilled group, Toronto hasn’t been the team that can win ugly in recent years. However, finding a way to get two wins on the road despite being outplayed for at least four periods is certainly winning ugly. In the playoffs, you’re not always going to have your best stuff, but stealing these games can be the difference between moving on and going home.
On top of this, they’re also rising to the occasion when they need to. In game 3, Ryan O’Reilly banged home the tying goal with one minute left in the third before they won in overtime. In game 4, they were even more impressive, coming back from a three-goal deficit before once again winning in the extra frame. These are the types of things that weren’t quite there for Toronto in the past. Now that the team has confidence in these playoff situations, though, the rest of the Eastern Conference should be taking notice.
Even after winning three straight, everyone from the fans to the players to the organization knows that this series is not over. They were outplayed for the majority of the last two games, they’re facing the three-time defending conference Champions, and they haven’t seen anything close to Andrei Vasilevskiy’s best stuff in net. Of course, it’s not time to panic, but this room should be playing game 5 like it’s a do or die. The absolute last thing that anyone in Toronto would want right now is for the Lightning and their goaltender to catch fire tonight before heading home for game 6 with momentum. After all, there’s a reason Tampa Bay has lost just one playoff series in the last three years.
On the positive side, confidence has to be at an all-time high for Toronto. They know they can beat the Bolts without playing their best game and they know that they can come down from early deficits. They also may have solved the Vasilevskiy problem for good, as it doesn’t take a hockey genius to recognize how they’ve consistently been beating him this series. Overall, tonight should be another fantastic game between these teams that may just end in Toronto erasing some playoff demons and stepping into the second round.
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