I’m not certain how other Toronto Maple Leafs’ fans are feeling today, but when I woke up this morning – other than being later than usual because writing a post didn’t seem as urgent as usual – things were pretty much normal. But, of course, I know they’re not.
The Maple Leafs are done for another season. And, what a great season it was (both the regular season and the postseason). The team lost. It didn’t embarrass itself (or me). And the guys on the team’s roster will move into their summers.
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Not all of them will be back; but, considering that question is for another post. Today, I’ll look at some of the events of the game and comment on what they might mean moving forward.
Now into the postseason. It’s sadly all too familiar.
Item One: Jack Campbell Gutted Out Game 7
Jack Campbell’s postseason series was up and down. He had thrown a shutout in Game 1, and he was coming off a 4-3 overtime loss to the Lightning in Game 6. At the start of the postseason, we (Stan and I) stated our belief that if Campbell were competent the team would be alright. He was competent. The team didn’t win.
In Game 7, he was better than competent. He was on his game. As I saw it, the goals came down to (as they often do in hockey) two lucky bounces. Both came from the most unlikely source – a defensive-player-first Nick Paul, who had never scored a postseason goal in his career.
The first bounce was a tiny tip from (I think) Morgan Rielly’s stick that changed the path of the puck toward Campbell. Instead of being able to catch it, it rebounded off him right back to Paul, who slid it into the net.
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The second goal saw Paul coming in on the net but being impeded by a Maple Leafs’ defender. As a result, Paul lost the puck, but it bounced off his skate and he was able to pick it up again and shoot it home. Bang-bang plays both, with the bounces going to the Lightning.
Two lucky goals, and that was the game. Campbell can’t be blamed for the loss. But he can be credited for hanging in there, even after he was injured – again by Paul driving to the net. In the end, Campbell’s (and his team’s) biggest problem was Andrei Vasilevskiy, who played as if he were last season’s Conn Smythe Trophy winner. He was.
In Game 7, Campbell gave up only two goals in 25 shots. It should have been enough.
Item Two: Auston Matthews Wanted the Game 7 Win – Badly
Auston Matthews had an assist in last night’s Game 7 loss, but he didn’t score. However, he showed up in a myriad of other ways. He totalled six hits last night and 32 hits over the course of the series. He also blocked six shots during the series.
Over the course of the seven-game series, Matthews scored four goals and added five assists (for nine points). What was most obvious was that he ramped up his physical game; he was engaging opponents all over the ice. He’s turning into a more physical player, which is something I’ve hoped to see over the course of the season.
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In the end, Matthews and his teammates were not able to take advantage of the situations they needed to grab the series. They had the chances, but they couldn’t score the critical goal. But have no doubt, Matthews played well.
Item Three: Mitch Marner Shows Himself to Be Elite
I have come to appreciate Mitch Marner over this season more than I had before. Last night gave me more reason to do so. He didn’t score a goal, but he scored two goals and added six assists during this postseason.
However, after the game, Marner spoke about the feeling of deep disappointment. But he also added that he felt bad for the veterans who had signed on for this push. That was classy, for me.
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He showed up this season and proved that he was an elite player throughout both the regular and the postseason. As he seemed to suggest, he and his partner Matthews will have another crack at the Stanley Cup over the next few seasons; however, some of his teammates will probably not. It was good that he considered them in his thinking.
Item Four: Morgan Rielly Was an Offensive Force All Night
Perhaps because he scored three goals during this postseason, I was noticing Morgan Rielly on the ice all night long. He was an offensive force and scored the team’s only goal in last night’s 2-1 loss.
During the postseason, Rielly added three assists (for six points in seven postseason games). The 28-year-old defenseman had a career season, scoring 68 points in 82 games. He too will be back, having already extended his contract.
What’s Next for the Maple Leafs?
There will be a number of changes for the team over this offseason; and, in a couple of days of settling in with the thought that the team is now finished on the season, I’ll probably begin to work on considering what those changes might be.
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I must say that I’ve enjoyed this season more than any of the other three seasons in which I’ve covered the Maple Leafs. I hope – and can’t imagine – the organization making radical changes, but we will see.
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