Maple Leafs in danger of losing series to rival Montreal Canadiens

Jesperi Kotkaniemi of the Canadiens celebrates his goal during overtime against the Maple Leafs in Game Six of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Jesperi Kotkaniemi of the Canadiens celebrates his goal during overtime against the Maple Leafs in Game Six of the First Round of the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Image: Getty Images

By now you know the key points. The Toronto Maple Leafs haven’t won the Stanley Cup since 1967, haven’t been to the Final since then either, haven’t beaten the Canadiens in a series since their ’67 title clash, won their first division title since 2000 this season (thanks to being in the all-Canadian coronavirus-realigned circuit), and haven’t won a postseason series since 2004.

Since then, the Leafs have had 7 chances to clinch a series. Their first was Game 7 in 2013 in Boston, better known as “It Was 4-1” because of the three Boston goals in the last 11 minutes of regulation to tie the game, and Patrice Bergeron’s overtime winner.

In 2018, Toronto took a 4-3 lead over Boston after two periods of Game 7. Torey Krug tied the score 70 seconds into the third, Jake Debrusk put the Bruins ahead 4:15 later, and David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand finished off another Toronto season, once again under a flurry of four unanswered goals.

In 2019, the Leafs had a chance on their home ice to eliminate the Bruins in Game 6, got on the board first with a Morgan Rielly goal… and went on to lose, 4-2. Two nights later, back in Boston, it was 5-1 Bruins, and Tee Times again for the blue and white.

Last year’s qualifying round in the bubble wasn’t technically a playoff series, but it doesn’t matter because the Leafs didn’t win that, either, bowing out in the decisive fifth game to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-0… and blowing a chance to run through the entire Eastern Conference playoffs in their own hometown.

However many games you want to call the streak, it continued in Game 5 against the Canadiens on Thursday, as the Habs coughed up a three-goal lead but won on Nick Suzuki’s goal in overtime. And again on Saturday night, this time in front of actual fans in Montreal, and this time with only a two-goal Habs edge evaporating before Jesperi Kotkaniemi’s goal forced… you guessed it, another Game 7.

Five times now during their 17 years without a playoff series win, the Leafs have been in position to advance either by protecting a lead or scoring an overtime goal. And by the fact that it’s “during their 17 years without a playoff series win,” you know how all five went.

If you want some good news for the Leafs, the last time they won a Game 7 was also the last time they won a playoff series, in 2004 against the Senators — but also the last time Toronto had a Game 7 at home. And really, that’s not so long ago, is it? After all, Zdeno Chara assisted on the only Ottawa goal in that 4-1 game. Then again, that Václav Varaďa goal also was assisted by Hall of Famer Marian Hossa, while Toronto’s lineup that night included four players who already have made the Hall — Ed Belfour, Ron Francis, Brian Leetch, and Joe Nieuwendyk — and Alexander Mogilny, who should be in.

The Leafs have at least one future inductee playing for them now in Joe Thornton, while John Tavares is hurt, and who knows what the future holds for Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews, still in their early 20s. What the recent past has held is Carey Price eating their lunch.

And just how are the Leafs doing, on their way to another Game 7, amid a gargantuan collapse against a team they were 18 points ahead of in the regular season?

“It’s time for the words to stop, the clichés to stop,” Toronto forward Nick Foligno said, as reported by the Toronto Star. “It’s Game 7. It’s time to put it all on the line.”

Oh, yeah, Toronto also saw its best defenseman, Jake Muzzin, leave with an apparent groin injury in the middle of Game 6. There’s a decent chance that the Leafs win on Monday, for no other reason than the universe deciding that the only thing funnier than Toronto completely imploding against Montreal is Toronto just barely avoiding utter disaster against its ancient rival, snapping all kinds of streaks in the process, and then getting humiliated by the little ol’ Winnipeg Jets.

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