The Toronto Maple Leafs: professional hockey’s smurfs

By God, it’s happened again. 

Make fun of the Los Angeles Clippers all you want, but they have not even reached the depths of playoff hell that the Toronto Maple Leafs are willing to dig to. 

Monday evening, the Montreal Canadiens completed a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit to eliminate the No. 1 team out of the North Division and set up a second-round date with the Winnipeg Jets. 

The first two rounds were handed to the Leafs on a silver platter. All they had to do was play to their ability and this would’ve been a cakewalk, but we should’ve remembered that “playing to their ability” in postseason translation means that they will forget what competent hockey looks like and produce nothing if they win three games in a series. 

For the fifth time in nine years, Toronto folded in a win-or-go-home game. 

Let’s take a look at this recent shame the Maple Leafs have brought to Toronto. 

2013: The Boston Trilogy begins

The Leafs trailed 3-1 series and they looked to be well over-matched by the team that went on to win the Eastern Conference. However, backed by great performances from goaltender James Reimer, Toronto earned a pair of 2-1 wins to force a Game 7 back in Boston. 

They had it. Toronto was finally going to win a series for the first time since 2004. Up 4-1 with 11 minutes left in the 3rd period, the Leafs were surely bound for the second round….At least, that’s what a sensible sports fan should believe. 

Yeah, somehow, Boston pulled off the miracle and went on to the Stanley Cup Finals where the infamous Game 6 against the Chicago Blackhawks happened. 

Toronto missed the playoffs for the next three years, but were able to draft their franchise star in Auston Matthews during the 2017 NHL Draft. The future looked bright for Toronto, but they reached the postseason ahead of schedule and were promptly eliminated by the Washington Capitals in six games. 

2018: Attack of the Clones

With a king’s ransom of young forwards and veteran talent to lead them, the Maple Leafs appeared to make a run for the Stanley Cup, but the boogeyman awaited them once again as they had to go to TD Garden for another series with the Bruins. 

Similar to five years ago, Toronto looked overpowered by the Bruins and Boston found themselves up 3-1 again, but as deja vu was to prove, Frederik Andersen became the new Reimer and pitched performances to force another Game 7….in the Garden.

A back-and-forth affair for two periods put the Leafs on the precipice of a series win, but unlike in the previous two games, Andersen became transparent and allowed every puck in the third period go through, which allowed Boston to run over Toronto 7-4. 

While the young core of Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner would have any fans licking their chops and falling head over heels game in and game out, the front office was still unsatisfied and brought it another reinforcement in one of Canada’s finest, John Tavares. 

2019: The Trilogy of Beantown Bleakness

This was it. Toronto had everything they needed to go for the elusive series win and maybe even win a Stanley Cup. 

However, the hockey gods were not going to allow the Leafs to make a run without them completing the first step they hadn’t accomplished three times prior, defeating the Boston Bruins. 

This time, it looked good for the Leafs as they were assertive midway through the series to take 2-1 and 3-2 series leads. Unfortunately, the trilogy wouldn’t be complete without the inevitable, a Game 7 at TD Garden. 

Third time’s a charm, right? No, Boston throttled the Leafs 5-1 and signed the papers that night to become the official owners of the Toronto Maple Leafs franchise. 

Mike Babcock was out as head coach and a new voice was brought in to lead Toronto to misery again. 

The new scapegoat, Sheldon Keefe. 

2020: Comeback comple…Nevermind

COVID threw a wrench in quite a long season for the Maple Leafs, but when the season returned, so did life across the world of hockey, except for Toronto. 

This time, Toronto was the team that looked to overpower the Columbus Blue Jackets with their depth, but it’s the postseason so the Maple Leafs forgot how to play hockey. 

They blew a three-goal lead in Game 3 of that weird opening round where virtually every NHL team was in the postseason and gave Columbus the series advantage. The next game, Toronto responded with a three-goal comeback of their own, which surely meant the hockey gods had enough Toronto blood sacrificed to finally reward them…..NOT SO FAST.

Toronto does absolutely nothing in the win-or-go-home Game 5 and suffers the goose egg of shame to bring an abrupt end to another disappointing season.

2021: The Atlanta Toronto Falcons Maple Leafs

This year, the Leafs were at the top of their game during the regular season and looked like a Stanley-Cup favorite. Granted, they were participating in that Mickey Mouse North Division, but they took care of business and easily secured the No. 1 seed in that bracket. They got a young, but much-too-inexperienced Montreal Canadiens team that had no business beating them. 

Insert, playoff Carey Price. 

Toronto simply had no answer for Price returning to peak form and it didn’t help that Jack Campbell couldn’t keep up with Price after a breakout year for the Leafs’ newest netminder. 

The Leafs were able to get out to a 3-1 series lead regardless and it seemed as though this was the year. 

Maybe we should just assume the Leafs will never win a playoff series because no matter the scenario, it’s never going to happen for Toronto. 

Two-straight overtime losses and the Leafs were back to square one, GAME 7. 

They are at home. The only fans in the arena are frontline healthcare workers who worked their butts off to save and protect the lives of millions of Toronto citizens during the pandemic. The very least you could do for them is complete the deed and win your first series in nearly two decades. 

What do you do instead?

You get absolutely torched by Montreal and ran out of your own arena. 3-1 was the final score to symbolize the sheer embarrassment this franchise is. 

They have all the talent possible to win a Cup, yet can’t get out of the first round. No franchise in sports could ever reach the level of shame the Maple Leafs are at and if any other team does, just fold the whole city. 

After leading the league in goals this season, Matthews delivered a tantalizing one goal to define his spot as the NHL’s golden boy. Mitch Marner? Nothing. Nylander was the only star to deliver. 

It’s honestly over for the Leafs. They can’t get any lower, but the ceiling is also the floor for them. 

The future is futile, but hey, at least the Leafs can still win the battle of Ontario over the Senators. Is that good enough?

If you want an even deeper look into the history of failure from the Leafs, here’s a link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=25j6s-ZY3mY&t=1913s&ab_channel=UrinatingTreeUrinatingTree

The curse of Harold Ballard lives strong!!

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