May 22, 2022

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Sure, they have been at that door earlier than.

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Seven occasions, to be actual, since 2018 the Maple Leafs have made it to the second spherical with only one win. However they could not flip the important thing, decide the lock, or just pierce the body with their shoulder.

As an alternative of getting in, they have been caught on the porch for a complete of 5 rounds since 2017 to listen to rivals taunt them, their very own followers yell, and the media continues to want 18 years to cross with out a gap sequence to have fun. .

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The Leafs Nation is aware of elimination at this level all too effectively, whether or not it is harm, suspension, damaged goaltender, weak protection, their younger weapons squeezing sticks, or coaches pushing the mistaken buttons.

Thursday may change all that as a lot because the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning. After final yr’s worst first-round frenzy – a 3-1 loss to the undervalued Montreal Canadiens – the Leafs had been capable of oust the reigning Cup winner for the primary time since 1967, once they beat the Habs for his or her final title.

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“We had alternatives final yr however we did not, we all know that,” heart Jason Spezza mentioned on Wednesday as they packed as much as head south. “We gave ourselves two possibilities (Sport 6 on Thursday, Sport 7 if crucial on Saturday in Toronto). However extra importantly, there ought to be the identical urgency as within the final sport. This urgency ought to comply with us to Tampa.

An early 2-0 loss and penalty issues, the Leafs had been held down by goaltender Jack Campbell and, thanks partly to Spezza’s pep speak on the first half, they rallied to a 4-3 win.

Spezza spoke out as a result of he does not need his closing NHL season, which probably ended at age 38, to finish early once more, and in addition does not need his 1,000-game non-Cup fellows Mark Giordano and Wayne Simmonds.

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The remainder of the Leafs gamers reacted to his phrases, whether or not it was principal forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, defenseman Morgan Reilly or captain John Tavares. As a result of simply two weeks into the two-month odyssey that each NHL participant desires of experiencing, they’re all sick of handshake traces.

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Sixteen wins are required every year for the Cup, and on Tuesday there have been 16 as Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Rilly had been rookies of their first spring sequence towards the Washington Capitals. It was a great attempt earlier than he misplaced in six video games and it seemed like there have been many bountiful playoffs forward. This was adopted by two years of dropping in a decisive Sport 7 in hostile Boston with a 12-5 mixture scoreline, the Scotiabank bubble towards Columbus because the Leafs misplaced the best-of-three closing, and victories over Montreal to Carey Worth and his hard-fought drafts neutralized them in three consecutive losses. .

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“You are attempting to study from errors, however we’re additionally a unique group (than final yr),” Spezza mentioned. “The fellows are at completely different levels of their careers, the blokes have matured.”

A potential bonus in the event that they win on Thursday could possibly be an additional relaxation if the Washington-Florida sequence goes all the best way, however to this point nobody is wanting outdoors the Amalia Area. They and their keen followers have gone to this point and been eviscerated sufficient occasions.

Coach Sheldon Keefe mentioned final Might’s largest lesson was to present no life to the opposition. It is onerous to do when Tampa are again from each losses on this sequence and are 16-0 down from a loss from the 2020 playoffs.

“It is a completely different opponent for us,” Keefe mentioned. “We imagine we have now the right combination and the whole lot goes proper to have the arrogance to exit and play rather well. We all know what’s in retailer for us in Tampa, however we performed effectively on this constructing. We’re making an attempt to make them uncomfortable.”

It already is. Tampa’s coach John Cooper continues to insist that the sequence deficit has extra to do along with his staff’s errors than with Campbell’s play or any of the Leaf’s different techniques.

“However give Toronto credit score for having the ability to capitalize,” Cooper mentioned on Wednesday. “They’re simply beating us at our personal sport. Perhaps in years previous different groups did not try this once we broke down.”

“We are able to carry it up, (their) ghosts of yesteryear, however we will not sit right here and say, ‘They did not win final yr, so they will not win once more.’

lhornby@postmedia.com

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