Fans of the Toronto Maple Leafs watched on carefully as the Boston Bruins took on the Florida Panthers on Sunday in the final game of the NHL’s regular season. While the Panthers had already been eliminated from playoff contention, the outcome determined whether the Leafs would meet the Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs.
The scenario was pretty simple. The Bruins needed a win against the Panthers to take down the Lightning and win the Atlantic Division. In the process, they would get the New Jersey Devils in the first round and the Leafs would be heading south to Florida to take on the Lightning.
But that just wasn’t in the cards for the Bruins… or the Leafs.
Now, with memories of the 2013 playoffs still in the minds of many in Leafs Nation, the Buds are set to head to Boston looking to wipe the slate clean from that disastrous Game 7 meltdown roughly five years ago.
Bringing Up the Bruins Comeback
I want to start by apologizing – this certainly can’t be easy for some of you reading it. But the Leafs aren’t the same team that took on the Bruins back in 2013.
Still, the Leafs should use it as a motivator in their upcoming first-round series.
Back on May 13, 2013, following the meltdown, Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston wrote, “To lose a game you led by three goals with 11 minutes to play would be crushing if it happened in February; to do it in Game 7 of a playoff series is nothing short of soul-destroying.”
And it was for many fans. Now, I’m not talking about your average hockey fan or your playoff bandwagon rider, I’m talking about those die hard fans that stood in Maple Leafs Square. I’m talking about the ones that overpaid for their playoff tickets and the ones sitting at home biting their nails as the Leafs jumped out to a 4-1 lead in a series-deciding game when they were fully expected to get blown away by the pesky Bruins.
Those are the fans that were left in shock. They stood eyes wide, watering from the disappointment and the sour taste left in their mouths when Patrice Bergeron scored the game winner at 6:05 of the overtime period.
But five years later, jersey tossers aside, the Leafs have had two successful seasons since the team hit rock bottom and drafted Auston Matthews. That includes the highest point total for the team this season (105) and highest win total for the team in franchise history (49). Simply put, it’s not the same Leafs team.
Leafs and Bruins This Season
Like any new team, the Leafs written a new chapter in the Bruins-Leafs rivalry this season. The two team met four times over their 82-game schedule with the Leafs coming out on top with a 3-1 record. Over that span, the Leafs also outscored the Bruins 12-10.
While Toronto did have a good showing against the Bruins during the regular season, the playoffs are a fresh start where experience can take you a long way.
Sure, the Leafs added veteran leadership in Ron Hainsey and Patrick Marleau to last year’s squad that kept it close with the Washington Capitals, but the Bruins have been to the dance before. Players like Bergeron, Brad Marchand and Zdeno Chara know what it takes to win. Tuukka Rask can steal a game for a Bruins, something that Frederik Andersen will have to do for the Leafs.
And while the Bruins will be battling the loss of some players to injuries – like Brandon Carlo – they still have the edge in experience over the Maple Leafs.
So what should fans expect heading into this divisional series?
Time to Wake Up From the Nightmares
Admittedly, I know a number of Leaf fans that still hate to talk about the 11-minute breakdown in Game 7. While the Leafs became a laughing stock – especially amongst Bruins fans – the B’s ended up in the Stanley Cup Final where they ended up losing. Still they were able to extend their postseason following the four unanswered goals in round one.
But times have changed. While the Leafs may still be considered underdogs – with the Bruins finishing second in the division – the Leafs could give Boston a run for their money.
What the Leafs lack in defence this season, they more than make up for with their outpouring of offence. And while James Reimer stood on his head for the 2013 edition of the playoff Leafs, Andersen is a much different and better NHL goaltender.
The Bruins might come out on top again, but only time will tell. But while we wait, one thing is for sure. It’s time for Leafs Nation to wake up from the nightmare they’ve been living in since 2013. There are only three sleeps to go before Game 1 of the Leafs-Bruins 2018 edition and it’s time for Toronto fans to pull on their jerseys and dream of the Leafs burying the bears.
Have thoughts about the column? Let me know on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes or @Tape2TapeTHW.
Tape2Tape is a column looking at some of the biggest stories from around the world of hockey. Discussing different topics, it focuses on delivering some opinion to hockey’s biggest fans. Whether you agree or disagree, we would love to hear your thoughts.