Will the Maple Leafs finally learn their lesson after playoff defeat?

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The Toronto Maple Leafs once more failed in the post-season, crashing out in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs for the sixth season in a row. The Maple Leafs were beaten in game seven by the Tampa Bay Lightning, despite finishing higher in the Eastern Conference standings than their rivals. Sheldon Keefe’s side appeared to have the series in hand when they took a 3-2 lead in game after the ebbs and flows of the first four matches. However, the Maple Leafs crumbled under the pressure to lose the final two matches and suffered a premature exit once again.

The Maple Leafs now have to watch the Lightning compete in the Stanley Cup finals where they’re certainly worth looking out for in the NHL live odds in their battle against the Colorado Avalanche. Toronto have to wait until next season in their bid to get past the first hurdle, although the weight of history is against them. The Maple Leafs have now failed to progress beyond the first round of the playoffs since 2004, and have not won the Stanley Cup since 1967.

Toronto Maple Leafs names on the Stanley Cup from 1967
Toronto Maple Leafs names on the Stanley Cup from 1967

Toronto were seemingly well placed to make a charge in the 2022 Stanley Cup playoffs after an outstanding regular season. They boasted the fourth-best record in the NHL at 54-21-7, finishing second in the Atlantic Division ahead of the Lightning. Auston Matthews was nothing short of sensational in his 73 games, scoring a franchise-record 60 goals along with 46 assists. Mitch Marner was also on point in the final third, notching 35 goals and 62 assists. William Nylander, John Tavares, Morgan Rielly, Michael Bunting and Alexander Kerfoot all provided the Maple Leafs with valuable depth to pair with their quality, while Jack Campbell was reliable between the posts.

However, when it came to the crunch moments against Tampa Bay, the Maple Leafs were unable to rise to the occasion. The two teams were evenly matched, splitting their series during the regular season. However, Toronto had the edge in game six after an incredible second period, scoring three times to take a narrow lead into the third.

But the Lightning produced the clinical moment when they needed it the most on home ice to take the game into overtime before Brayden Point scored the decisive winner for Tampa Bay. There was still a glorious chance for the Maple Leafs to advance, but the back-to-back NHL champions proved their resilience and nous under pressure to secure a 2-1 win on the road and silence the home crowd. Nicholas Paul was on the mark twice to break Toronto’s heart as Matthews failed to rise to the occasion to answer back for the Maple Leafs.

It was yet another lesson for Toronto in playoff hockey. They had the opportunity to kill off the contest, but failed to seize the moment. Keefe’s men have been a model of consistency in the regular season in the three years of his tenure, but he was brought into the franchise to end their playoff drought and capture the Stanley Cup. The franchise have opted to keep him in place, but he will certainly be feeling the pressure next season to deliver results. Until the Maple Leafs can learn to rise to the occasion in the playoffs, their hopes of ending their 56-year drought without the crown will not end any time soon.