Maple Leafs Ready to Change the Past With Another Crucial Game 7

It’s not the spot that the Toronto Maple Leafs wanted to be in, after they had a chance to eliminate the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions Tampa Bay Lightning.

After a 4-3 Game 6 overtime loss, the Maple Leafs are back in very familiar territory where they once again failed to eliminate their opponent in the playoffs in six seasons. The wait for a playoff win is on hold as the Maple Leafs haven’t won a series dating back to 2004. 

It may not seem like it given the result, but the Maple Leafs deserved better, as they did everything they could to punch their ticket to the next round. Playing in their fourth Game 7 in the last six playoff appearances, the Maple Leafs have a fantastic opportunity to once again flip the script and rewrite the narrative that this team can’t finish the job when it matters most. 

This Team is Different

While eliminating the Lightning on their home ice would’ve been a taste of sweet victory for the Maple Leafs, this team is different compared to teams that we’ve seen in the past. 

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Aside from a Game 4 collapse where they didn’t show up at the beginning and ended up losing 7-3, this team is showing the mindset and mentality head coach Sheldon Keefe and everyone else has talked about. This team has battled from the very beginning of the series, proving that they’re worthy of keeping up with the top teams and making a deep run. 

This team isn’t as weak defensively that collapsed in 2013. They’re showing up to play, having the right mindset and not giving up easily as they did in recent playoff performances. They mean business. We’ve heard the players say the same comments over and over again about how they’ve learned from their mistakes. This team appears to have finally got the message and appear stronger and more mentally tough to endure this kind of pressure and moment. 

Auston Matthews Mitch Marner Celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner Celebrate a Goal (Photo by Mark Blinch/NHLI via Getty Images)

The drive from the players is clearly evident through six games played. They’ve shown that they can be the better team. They dominated in Game 1 to set the tone that they’re going to put up a fight. In back-to-back games in Game 5 and Game 6, they overcame two 2-0 leads to gain the lead and fight back. 

They have shown the will power and determination to bounce back and get the opposition on their heels. They’ve been able to accomplish that and play at their best when trailing in the game, responding with the kind of play that playoff teams should play with. Even in a lose, they’ve shown to bounce back in a big way.

The Maple Leafs have managed to score 3.83 goals per game and make Andrei Vasilevskiy, one of the best goaltenders in the league, look average with his play in net as he owns an .885 save percentage. They were the dominant team in the last two games as they controlled the possession game with a five-on-five Corsi For percentage of 58.44 in Game 5 and 51.61 in Game 6. They had the edge in scoring chances for and high danger chances. 

Yes, there have been some mistakes, but the Maple Leafs on-ice play has been consistent enough to win a series. Fans have been behind them consistently as Scotiabank Arena has been electrifying, giving the Maple Leafs a boost of confidence and energy with the home ice advantage. They’ve shown to be the better team and now, they have the chance to put an exclamation mark on that statement and come out flying with the home crowd behind them. 

After Game 6, Keefe’s message was plain and simple, go out and win

The Players Want It

If there’s one thing that’s abundantly clear, the players want to succeed and prove that they can learn from the past. Especially when it comes to the stars of the team as they have been leading the charge. They appeared to have found the killer instinct that they have lacked in the past to take control of a game and show up. That is not the case this time. 

Auston Matthews Toronto Maple Leafs
Auston Matthews, Toronto Maple Leafs (Photo by Gerry Angus/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Auston Matthews has scored some crucial goals in the series, including the game-winner in Game 5 and got the ball rolling in Game 6. He leads the team with eight points and line mate Mitch Marner hasn’t been one-dimensional like he has in the past as he’s been displaying both his playmaking and shooting mentality, while tallying seven points. 

While John Tavares and William Nylander were quiet in the first three games, both players have been on fire lately and contributing offensively. Nylander has recorded three straight multi-point games with three goals and four assists in that span. Tavares tallied three goals and two assists, including giving the Maple Leafs some momentum in the second period of Game 6. Jack Campbell has shown that whatever he was dealing with in January and February, isn’t a factor as he’s proven that he can outduel Vasilevskiy and rise above to make critical saves when he needs to. 

For once, all four of the Maple Leafs top forwards have shown up consistently in this series. And while the memory and pain of past Game 7 failures have haunted them in the past, they’re ready to take this head on and prove that they deserve to go far. After the loss, Matthews made a comment that embodies that of a winner.

“What’s in the past is in the past, man,” Matthews said according to Scott Burnside of Daily Faceoff. “You can’t change anything now. It’s about this next game and going out there with a purpose and details and just competing for 60 minutes or whatever it takes. We’ve just got to put our balls on the line and go for it.”

It’s safe to say that the players know what’s on the line heading into Game 7. Just like every other game in this series, they’ll be ready knowing that they’ve fought hard and prove that they want it.

Whatever Happens, Happens

Given how this Maple Leafs team appears more motivated, if they advance, they have a really good chance to build off this momentum and make a deep run. 

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If they don’t, is there the possibility that this may be the last chance they face as a collective group? Will major changes be coming if they once again bow out of the first round? 

As frustrating it has been to witness the same outcome unfold, given how they managed to find a new found attitude and mentality this season and play with purpose, jobs might be safe and the players will be extra motivated. The drive and determination is there where it may have been lacking in the past.

That mentality helps breed champions and if there’s one team to be on the right side of history in Game 7, it’s this one.

Statistics from Natural Stat Trick and NHL.

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