What went wrong for the Maple Leafs?
Another Game 7 against the Bruins, another loss for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
“We believed in this team,” Leafs right winger Mitch Marner said. “We had a lot of confidence in this team. When the season ends early, it [stinks].”
History repeated itself Tuesday evening. For the third time in seven years, Toronto once again fell to Boston in the final game of a best-of-seven, first-round playoff series. Unlike the pair’s previous two postseason meetings, the Bruins entered the last period with a lead — and pulled ahead for the 5-1 victory to set up a second-round matchup with the Columbus Blue Jackets.
The Leafs, on the other hand, found themselves shaking their heads, left with the same frustration and disappointment that bedeviled them a year ago.
“We lost,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “It’s a feeling we felt before, and it’s not good.”
Jolted by a raucous sellout crowd, Boston scored twice in the final five minutes of the first period to build a two-goal cushion. Toronto, however, was by no means discouraged by the early deficit.
Marner said the players promised before the game that they would fight for the full 60 minutes, regardless of the score after each period.
That they did, getting 13 shots on goal in the second frame. Their aggression paid off with just under four minutes remaining in the period, when center John Tavares fired one past netminder Tuukka Rask to cut Boston’s advantage to one.
Toronto “easily could have had more than just the one,” according to center Auston Matthews. But Rask stood tall, fending off several solid chances, including a second-period power play.
“They created a lot of momentum,” Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara said. “They were putting a lot of pucks on the net [and] in the slot. There were a lot of shots, rebounds. I thought [Tuukka] was in a good position, controlling the rebounds and the shots, so I thought that he was obviously a difference maker.”
The third period drained the last of Toronto’s hope, as Boston tallied goal after goal after goal while the clock continued to tick. At the sound of the final buzzer, the Bruins remained on the ice to celebrate the win and thank their fans. The Leafs, meanwhile, shuffled their way to the visitors’ dressing room — forced to digest yet another unfavorable outcome.
“It’s the same [bad] feeling as last year,” Marner said.
“The frustration everybody feels in this locker room, it’s sad to see it end the way it did,” Matthews said. “This is obviously a feeling that we’ve experienced two years in a row, and it’s not a good feeling for any of us. It’s something that we want to not experience again.”
So, what exactly went wrong?
Marner seemed to have it boiled down to a simple explanation.
“They scored on their chances,” he said. “We didn’t.”
Changes are probably coming to Toronto’s roster, but players declined to look ahead. Asked about potential offseason improvements, coach Mike Babcock opted to look within. He specifically highlighted the promise of young forwards Kasperi Kapanen and Andreas Johnsson, who starred in the second line after playing in the AHL last season, and defenseman Travis Dermott.
“We just keep grinding away, making things happen for ourselves,” Babcock said. “We’ll look at our group and see what we can do to get better.”
No matter who returns to the team, next season’s goal is certainly obvious.
“It’s going to stick with us,” Marner said. “We’re going to be hungry for this next year and make sure we come back [ticked] off.”