The Toronto Maple Leafs are 0-7 when trying to clinch a series since 2013. Morgan Rielly has had a front-row seat to all seven of those disappointments. The longest-serving Maple Leaf player admitted there is uncertainty heading into Game 7 against the Montreal Canadiens. “I think it is natural during a playoff series to let doubt creep in a little bit, but it’s on us to control that,” said Rielly. A truthful answer from a guy who’s been on the receiving end of a lot of criticism during these playoffs. “I don’t think we are overly happy with how we got here. The reality is we have to go out there on home ice and win one game.”
Maple Leafs Lack the Killer Instinct
Rielly was in the Leafs’ system when the franchise suffered one of the most epic collapses in the last decade. The Boston Bruins stormed back from a 4-1 deficit with less than ten minutes to go to win 5-4 and advance. In 2017-18, he was on the team that lost 7-4 to the Bruins in game seven of the first round. The following season Rielly was there when Toronto failed twice to finish off Boston and advance to the second round.
Last season, he was on the ice when Toronto got shut out 3-0 in the final game of the play in series against the Columbus Blue Jackets. Rielly looks at the past disappointments as advantages, “just having the experience of being there. Obviously, nerves come into play. It’s a big challenge for us. But having that experience, playing these games, I think, helps.”
Mounting Pressure on Superstars to Produce
It’s not just the failures in clinching games that are hanging over the Maple Leafs. Their elite players have not been putting up the numbers. Auston Matthews, the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy winner for most goals in the regular season, has managed just one goal in six games. Mitch Marner, who was fourth in the league in points, has not scored while taking two delay of game penalties.
Sheldon Keefe expects better for Game 7. “We need everybody to be at their best and our best players in particular,” said Keefe, “those guys have got to remain confident and not get distracted. I think those guys have played hard, and they have played well they haven’t been rewarded with it. They’ve got to find a way as a line.” Keefe talked more about his expectation in this video.
Zach Hyman, the third piece of that top line, believes the dynamic duo will have their best performance, “those guys are guys who want to score every night. I think we need to continue to do the right things and stick with the process, and we are going to break through here. So, I know those guys put a lot of pressure on themselves it’s going to be a big night for them.”
It will need to be a big night for everyone. The stage is set. Momentum is against Toronto, and so are the history books. But if you listen to the players and coaches, that’s fine by them.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.