The Leafs want to preclude [Carey] Price from attaining “can’t beat me” confidence.
Which a Game 7 showdown could manufacture.
— BETWEEN The Posts, May 27
TORONTO (May 31) — In the end, there is death, taxes… and the Montreal Canadiens conquering the Toronto Maple Leafs. For how many years, decades and generations can the same team have the last laugh?
It’s a question without the hint of an answer.
Neither does it matter in Montreal, but the Leafs somehow coughed up a 3–1 series lead against the weakest of the 16 playoff qualifiers in 2021. There was no magic to the collapse; simply an absence of production from all but William Nylander… and a bewildering lack of urgency on home ice in Game 7. Hindsight shows the Leafs played their best stretch of hockey in the first 10 minutes of overtime on Saturday night. But, they couldn’t beat ol’ “Money” in the Canadiens net. A silly play at the blue line by defenseman Travis Dermott — as it turned out — spelled the end for the Leafs. They seemed barely interested in the decisive match. Emotionally bamboozled before the opening face–off. Which may be the most–ominous feature of this club, moving forward.
Not a soul in either city envisioned such an end result after the Leafs hammered the Canadiens, 4–0, in Game 4 last Tuesday at the Bell Centre to grab an apparent stranglehold on the series. Yet… here we are today.
SPORTSNET/HOCKEY NIGHT IN CANADA
As in my previous blog, I caution fans of the Leafs about expecting any form of roster detonation. The franchise, for at least another three years, is married, contractually, to the Big 4: John Tavares, Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Nylander. Maple Leaf Sports and Entertainment could make a big splash and blow up the front office; fire Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas and Sheldon Keefe. Yet, what will it prove beyond appeasing infuriated, exasperated supporters yearning for blood to spill? How many general managers and coaches have the Leafs hired and bounced in the past 54 years? Where’s the evidence that another such overhaul will succeed?
There was a time, in my youth and my memory, when followers of the New York Islanders were certain the club couldn’t win with Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy. After getting bounced from the playoffs by the underdog Maple Leafs in 1978 and the rival New York Rangers in 1979. More than a decade passed in Detroit in which fans of the Red Wings were sure the club would never prevail with Steve Yzerman at the helm. Eight Stanley Cups later — four apiece — proved that observers of both teams thought prematurely.
Though it seems almost laughable right now, maybe — just maybe — the same will happen with Matthews, Marner and Co. There is no real choice, in the flat, salary capped National Hockey League for the Maple Leafs but to maintain such hope. These players are still young; still learning, and, perhaps, sufficiently annoyed by half–a–decade of playoff calamity to somehow turn it around. To show some jam. Why they could not bring a reasonable level of enthusiasm to Game 7 against Montreal has to be studied hard by management. Personnel overhaul, as mentioned, isn’t an option, but there may be other ways to dig deeper into the remarkable, maddening contrast between regular season and playoff performance. Bottom line is, the Big 4 will either get something done for the Maple Leafs in the next three years… or not at all. Until then, changing the nucleus of the team is not possible.
At the moment, however, it’s about the Canadiens spooking the Maple Leafs. Yet again. This time, without a shred of expectation. That Montreal hasn’t won the Stanley Cup since 1993 doesn’t diminish a 10–0 lead by the Habs over Toronto in NHL titles since 1967. Or three head–to–head playoff eliminations in as many tries — the first two by Scotty Bowman’s dynasty of the late–1970’s; this one by a group of comparative paupers. Losing to the Canadiens this spring after holding a commanding 3–1 series lead is undoubtedly the deepest cut of the Shanahan era. The defeats against Washington and Boston in prior playoff rounds were hardly embarrassing and the Columbus team that kayoed Toronto in the qualifying series last August was a year removed from one of the biggest upsets in Stanley Cup history: a first–round sweep of the 62–win Tampa Bay Lightning. This defeat, on the surface, is quite illogical. With gusts to absurd. Even if we know how it happened — Matthews and Marner nearly invisible; Carey Price outplaying Jack Campbell in the clutch — determining why it happened is another matter.
Perhaps it is merely written somewhere that these two franchises — diametrically opposite for much of the past 54 years — will remain so indefinitely. I mean, how else to explain?
Howard, love reading your posts. Those saying they’re done reading here will be back on the wagon after the rubbing alchohol poured on the open wound last night wears off…
Growing up watching Wendel, Dougie, Sundin, Darcy Tucker, Shayne Corson, Gary Roberts etc. it was nauseating to watch this version of the Leafs in game 7. Granted the aforementioned didn’t win it all, but the passion, grit, energy and emotion was always present in the playoffs with those Leafs teams. At 6’4 220 its a crime that Matthews plays like he’s wearing a tutu in a shinny game. Yes he improved his 200 ft game, but his desire to strictly use stickwork instead of his huge frame to separate opponents from the puck is maddening. Throw a freakin big hit to set the tone. It’s game 7! And if HE’s the team hit leader you knew we’re in trouble. Show him clips of Andreychuk scoring 50 greasy ones parked in the crease. Enough of the off the rush snipes. It doesn’t work when you have no room on the ice in the playoffs. Muck it up and get a dirty one for gods sakes! Can you imagine Wendel being ragdolled in a scrum and smiling while getting manhandled by Weber. He’d have taken a 5 and 10 and even a game, but the tone would have been set that you’re not to be messed with the rest of the series. And don’t get me started on Marner… Kid looked like he met the devil in a dark alley before puck drop. Completely forgets how to play the game in the playoffs. I’ll take a Tom Wilson over that crap any day of the week.
This was an 18 wheeler off the cliff moment. I’m afraid there’s not much of a change in the cards for next year.
I purposefully did not watch last night’s game. Instead, I hit a round of virtual golf on my PC. The result of the game just seemed a foregone conclusion and golf seemed a less stressful alternative. Turns out, I was right.
Normally, I can objectively look at the team after the inevitable post season collapse, and see a path to success. With this team, and the hard cap, that’s tough. You can’t blow it up, but you can’t just keep putting out the same product expecting a different result.
This club is not built for playoff success. For the past 3 or 4 years, I’ve been saying the club needs a solid two way defenseman. If it were me, I’m probably looking to bolster the backend with at least one defenseman. One thing that , to me, is a clear deficiency is the lack of a shooting option on the blue line. Teams can too easily play soft on the blueline to shut down the forward group. They need a threat on the blueline that can play big minutes.
The club also needs toughness in their top 6 forwards, that can score. The toughness they brought in showed little in the playoffs because they just weren’t part of the core. Who was this teams Gary Roberts?
The obvious issue is how do you bring those players in? The team is against the cap, they lack draft picks now, and other teams aren’t looking to give away those types of players. I can only see one way for this to happen, and it would involve moving out one of Matthew’s or Marner, neither of whom I would be happy to lose. Nylander is another option, but does that open up enough space? I don’t think so, and Willy was one of the few that actually produced this year.
Tough problems to solve, and frankly, I dont see Dubas making those changes. Time will tell. Another off season, hoping for next year. And still, we wait, and hope.
There is NO CHANCE you didn’t watch Game 7.
I 100% did not watch h the game. Had the live tracker on my phone for score. I walked out of the living room at 7PM last night. Truthfully, I knew the outcome before the game started, and my heart couldn’t take another one of these. As I said, playing a couple rounds of virtual golf turned out to be much more relaxing..My wife came in and told me the final score, apologizing for the ineptitude of the Leafs for another year.
I’ve been a Leaf fan since the early 90’s, and there is only so much I can take at my age.
Signing Joe Thornton is all you need to know about Dubas’ hockey sense. Slow Joe had no business being on the ice for a game 7. It was painful watching him skate. Dubas after all these playoff losses, still has no idea how to build a playoff winner. He won’t lose his job because he’s a yes man to Shanahan, like Atkins is to Shapiro. Shanahan wouldn’t dare put in a strong GM who would stand up to him.
Howard Berger is the biggest loser in the city I’ve never seen a more unlikable condescending, patronizing, know it all in all my life. Constantly retweeting his lame blog that nobody cares about because he thinks his captain obvious takes are hot takes that nobody else thinks of in the hopes he can get 10 views. If anybody deserves the decades of long suffering and pain the Leafs have brought it’s this giant baby! Finally had enough and unfollowed him after years of the radio and Twitter finally free of this toxicity once and for all.
Oh, the anguish – and anger – of being a Leafs fan.
Your article can be summed up in one sentence:
Better the devil you know
Man, I loved reading your articles.
Now I’m quitting on you, just like I did the leafs tonight
and the streak remains intact.
I think Brendan Shanahan has to fire Dubas and Keefe if you can’t advance beyond a first round. Time to clean house and get rid of Mitch Marner for Jack Eichel.
Howard, I am somewhat surprised you have stopped calling for the Leafs to obtain that true No. 1 defenseman, or a true playoff goalie. Yes Rielly is a fine D man and Jack Campbell more than held his own. But absent of at least addressing one of those two positions, you and I both know what happened tonight will merely repeat itself year and after.
And as for your Detroit and NYI comparison, Rielly is no Lidstrom nor a Dennis Potvin… this year or 5 years from now.
Your Detroit, Islanders comments are in hindsight. Again, no one was saying it at the time. And, if you think I’ve stopped calling for a “true No. 1” defenseman, you’ve stopped reading my blogs.