If you’re a hockey fan, then you most likely know all about Toronto’s historic struggles in the first round of the NHL playoffs. It’s been six straight years of first round exits, and the organization hasn’t made it to the second round since 2004. Amazingly, the fashion in which they’ve lost these games has been even more heartbreaking (or awesome, depending on your feelings towards the Leafs). In the last five years, the Maple Leafs have had nine opportunities to move on to the next round and have lost all nine. Every series has also gone the maximum number of games. So, will the curse in Toronto finally come to an end this year? From the organization’s standpoint, it better.
For the second straight year, the Maple Leafs will face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the opening round of the playoffs. After falling in game seven last year to the eventual Eastern Conference Champions, Toronto spent this season retooling the roster and making some significant changes. Besides two new goaltenders coming in the offseason, they also added a few key players during the year, such as Ryan O’Reilly, Luke Schenn and Jake McCabe. O’Reilly was hurt not long after the trade, but he will be back in the lineup for game one. Overall, Toronto finished another very impressive regular season with a record of 50-21-11. This record was good enough to tie them for 4th in the league in points.
Tampa Bay comes into the postseason after limping to the finish line in the regular season a little. Last year, many thought that they would finally show some signs of fatigue after back-to-back Stanley Cups. This season, people are thinking that the fatigue is already starting to finally show. Although Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos once again put up very impressive numbers this season, the team did not fare as well in the standings and finished with a record of 46-30-6. Andrei Vasilevskiy also had a bit of a disappointing season, although there’s certaintly reason to believe he can find his game for playoffs again this year.
Will Toronto See the Second Round?
With where the teams are right now, the Leafs absolutely need to win this series. If another season ends in a first-round exit, major changes would most likely be coming to the organization that could break up an exceptionally talented core group of players. However, even if they just win this series and lose in the next round to Boston, the group probably buys themselves one more year. Playing in this division and conference has certainly worked against the Maple Leafs in recent years, but at some point, progress needs to be seen.
Tampa Bay won’t give them anything easy, but I do expect this to be the year Toronto finally gets it done. If the second round does go against Boston, they’ll even have the opportunity to erase more playoff demons and take out one of the best regular season teams of all time. As always, it’s an exciting but painfully stressful time for the Toronto Maple Leafs and their fans.
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