You Know Why The Leafs Are Here

TORONTO (May 30) — There is no mystery as to why the heavily favored Leafs are going to Game 7 against the highly inferior Montreal Canadiens. Neither is there any mystery to this blog.

Every pre–series declaration of a four or five–game Toronto rout — and there were many — was predicated on the club’s big scorers continuing their pace from the regular season. Not on Auston Matthews having a ridiculous one goal after six matches. A work colleague of mine wondered Saturday night why Matthews hasn’t “shown up” for the playoffs. My answer was that he has “shown up.” And, that’s the problem. You can’t just “show up” in the Stanley Cup tournament as you may on any of 20 or 25 nights during the long playoff warm–up. The shooters that are counted on — and are legitimate superstars — lift their performance well beyond the October–to–April level (January to May this year)… and they do so commensurately. In other words, the deeper the playoff run and the higher the stakes, the better they play. To this point in his still–young National Hockey League career, Toronto’s best shooter, perhaps of all time, has failed the post–season test. That doesn’t mean Matthews will continue to struggle. We all know he can break out with a mega–performance at any time and against any opponent. But, there is no question the Maple Leafs are where they are right now — on the cusp of perhaps blowing a 3–1 series lead against the least–threatening of the 16 playoff qualifiers — because their best player has been silent.


You may consider it unfair to place such onus on Matthews in a team sport. But, I guarantee we’d be praising him to high heaven if he had guided the Leafs past the Canadiens earlier in the series, as so many anticipated. Same with Mitch Marner, who has four assists. A discussion thread on the Leafs page of H–F Boards asks “Are Matthews and Marner choke artists in the playoffs?” The ‘C’ word is awfully damning in professional sport, yet not entirely unjustified, here. At least, up to now. For some reason, fans and media in Toronto keep celebrating regular–season accomplishments, even as the Maple Leafs — one way or another — disappoint in the playoffs. If it’s not soft, killer goals eluding Frederik Andersen at pivotal moments, it’s the big money men (William Nylander excluded in this series) coming up short. At some point, Leaf observers will learn to temper their enthusiasm for what occurs prior to the Cup tournament; other than, of course, recognizing the wins and points needed to qualify.

For whatever it’s worth, the Leafs have neither held, nor coughed up, a 3–1 series lead in 34 years… not since the second round of the 1987 Stanley Cup playoffs. After knocking off St. Louis in six games (who can forget Motor City Smitty opening the scoring on a breakaway in Game 6, sending Maple Leaf Gardens into hysterics?), Toronto went up, 3–1, on the Detroit Red Wings when forward Mike Allison beat Glen Hanlon in overtime, also at the Gardens. Despite another dismal regular season (32–42–6 for 70 points) — commonplace under the ownership of Harold Ballard in the 80’s — the Leafs were one victory shy of meeting Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers in the Stanley Cup semifinals. But, that victory never came. Why? The Leads couldn’t score (sound familiar?). They lost 1–0, 4–2 and 3–0 in the final three matches; Detroit taking the series on home ice in Game 7.

The only apparent similarity between that Leafs team and the current one is the city it calls home. At least we figured as much before the series began with Montreal. Right now, the parallel is rather haunting. And, the task of hanging on against the Canadiens entirely daunting if Matthews merely “shows up” again on Monday.


9 comments on “You Know Why The Leafs Are Here

  1. With top-shelf talent, it’s astonishing that Toronto can’t slip the puck into the net when the game is there for the taking.

    Howard, your observations that Toronto lacks a true Norris proto-typical defenseman appears to be a hurdle that Toronto can’t overcome. Even if Toronto backs into the next round, without a Shooter McGavin/Big Al Iafrate (Shea Webber) blasting away from the blue line, scoring goals and juicy rebounds, Toronto is limited to the finesse/passing game which has been painful to watch. Watching your cohort Dangle scream “Shoot..Shoot…Shoot….Shoot” while appearing to be in cardiac arrest” sums up the past 2 games. I was too young to appreciate Iafrate but when I look back on his video he’s a 240-pound master painter/stained glass window. It’s easy to see why you hold him in high regard.

    I do love Coach Keefe, but I acknowledge that your other poster has a valid argument about inexperience. Toronto missed 2 opportunities to adjust their style and just go balls-out total offense shooting the puck at every change until they get a goal/lead.

    A quick study of the playoff point-leaders shows that nobody from Toronto is in the top 12 and Nathan McKinnon has 9 points in 4 games.

    I really appreciate all the stories you create. I have a 4-year-old son and I try to share your stories and the old photos with him as much as you can with a 4 year old.

  2. This team is not built for playoff hockey. Is it timely to mention since the Leafs made Dubas the GM and Lou Lamoriello went off to Long Island, the Islanders have won five playoff rounds and counting in three years.

  3. There has never been a team in pro sports that has ended a prolonged championship drought within a salary cap. See Cubs, Red Sox or White Sox. Add the fact that it becomes more difficult with every greedy league expansion and that the Stanley Cup is already the hardest trophy to win. Makes exactly no difference in the end which round they lose in because lose they will. Always! The joy of a championship is for everyone else to feel. Thar will simply never change.

  4. There is a lot more blame to go around here. Matthews has not been strong enough for sure and Marner has been equally if not more dissapointing. He seems terrified to shoot the puck and is always looking to pass…. That makes it all that much easier to defend against Matthews!

    Blame has to fall on Shanahan for hiring Dubas (and letting Lou walk) and on Dubas for hiring Keefe. No coach with this level of talent should have that poor of a power play. Why do the Leafs have a rookie coach when there were and are better candidates out there? They do so that Dubas could feel comfortable! Nobody can convince me Keefe did a good job coaching this year because this season was setup for success for the Leafs…the playoffs require coaching. The previous coach got fired for lack of playoff success against superior teams.

    Any smart GM knows that you need 4 lines that you can roll in the playoffs. Dubas is going to have the same trouble this summer looking for league minimum salary type players to round out this roster. He has put too much cap $ upfront and not enough balance throughout the lineup let alone the defence.

  5. Pasternak scored a hat trick in game one of the Boston-Islanders series. Other stars on other teams are producing regularly this playoffs. And when the BEST player in the NHL didn’t do much this playoffs out west, well the results speak for themselves.
    I have debated many of my friends for a few years culminating in the biggest of debates this year, that Dubas truly has failed to assemble a team that is built for playoff hockey. These guys just don’t seem to play well when they aren’t given space and when they are tightly checked.
    There has to be something that the coaching staff can do, make the necessary changes, make the power play work, I can’t believe I am saying that this team needs a spark. As if finally winning “A” single series isn’t enough motivation for these guys? ugh

  6. I can’t believe that the Leafs are poised to break my heart again. I’m 49 so you will understand that my earliest memories include MTL ousting Toronto in 1978-79.

    What is going to happen at MLSE if we succeed in orchestrating one more collapse?

    1. Shanahan, Dubas and the coaching staff will all be gone in short order. MLSE is all about the money. This year with no fans, performance really doesn’t matter. Next year with a full house? Results will definitely matter and that includes playoff revenues from a deep run. It’s always about the money and this team, from top to bottom, cannot go deep.

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