May 20, 2022

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Right here we go once more.

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One shot for the Maple Leafs to achieve the Stanley Cup playoffs, one shot to spare them the ache of previous playoff failures, one shot to take a giant step in restoring post-season glory for the followers who’re determined for it want.

It may’t be simply one other Saturday evening hockey recreation on the Scotiabank Area when the Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning get right down to enterprise in Recreation 7.

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To not point out what has occurred up to now 5 years the place the Leafs could not get previous the primary spherical.

To be sincere, it is extra in regards to the final 4 years, as nobody anticipated the Leafs to beat the Washington Capitals within the first spherical in 2017. That the Leafs ended the season that spring after ending final general in 2015/16 was a formidable feat; bringing the Caps, who had 23 extra factors than the Leafs within the common season, to 6 video games earlier than elimination was a playoff bonus.

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In 2022, issues are totally different. This Leafs staff is in contrast to others which have fallen within the latest previous. When a membership units common season franchise data in scoring and wins and finishes with a .701 scoring share, which can also be the most effective in staff historical past, they’re doing nearly every thing proper.

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This 12 months there may be one other notable distinction – the Leafs’ opponent within the first spherical.

The Lightning are a staff that the Leafs haven’t confronted in latest playoffs. They’ve earned the fitting to be assured after successful the Stanley Cup in every of the final two years. Tampa are a strong membership with stars in each place and so they have not missed a beat to proceed their hunt for a possible third consecutive Cup.

Had Recreation 7 been determined just by battle scars from latest playoffs, we might conclude that any expertise Tampa gained in successful two Cups through the worldwide pandemic would outweigh the Leafs’ losses. within the first spherical by the upstart Montreal Canadiens final 12 months or the decided Columbus Blue Jackets within the 2020 bubble.

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There will likely be a bit of extra within the recreation on Saturday evening. The Leaves do not want any further motivation, however you need to perceive that at the back of their collective thoughts they may consider a big missed alternative in the event that they go away the ice on the mistaken facet of the ultimate rating.

The profession seasons of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and lots of others on the record would have been largely wasted.

Bear in mind that the win window for this group can also be closing a bit of quicker than some want to admit. Matthews and Nylander have two years left on their contract, whereas Marner and captain John Tavares have three extra.

This summer time, a lot of gamers, a few of them essential, will likely be coming into limitless free will mode. This group consists of goaltender Jack Campbell, forwards Ilya Mikheev, Jason Spezza and Colin Blackwell, and defensemen Mark Giordano and Ilya Lyubushkin.

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And it may end up that the Lightning was essentially the most tough opponent for the Leafs, particularly within the first couple of rounds. If the Leafs go additional, then neither the Florida Panthers nor the Capitals will current the problem that the savvy Lightning has thrown.

Just like the Leafs, the Panthers are looking for their method on the finish of the season. The Caps, in the event that they had been in a position to lengthen their streak with Florida on Friday evening, are far sufficient away from their cup title in 2018 that they do not have the goaltender they want for a reputable collection this 12 months.

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Put us in a gaggle that thinks that if the Leafs win Recreation 7 and eventually make it to the second spherical for the primary time since 2004, there will likely be a variety of stress off that group.

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We is not going to argue that the Leafs will robotically win within the second spherical, though they may play the primary recreation early subsequent week with out the psychological shackles related to shedding within the first spherical. This in itself can go a good distance and be the figuring out think about any success that will come.

However first, Recreation 7. The Leafs had been speaking about how their efficiency within the common season earned them the fitting to play on dwelling ice within the deciding recreation. They get it Saturday evening.

Alternative waits for the leaves. They’re able to take full benefit of it. They must show it.

tkoshan@postmedia.com

twitter.com/koshtorontosun

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