The Toronto Maple Leafs had a chance to close out the Tampa Bay Lightning on Thursday in Game 6 of their First Round playoff series. They didn’t seize the opportunity, as the Lightning won 4-3 in overtime, and now the series will come down to a Game 7.
Listen, it’s no secret that the Maple Leafs have had their fair share of disappointments in recent years. In each of the past five seasons, Toronto has bowed out in the opening round of the playoffs. The Maple Leafs have only been to the postseason on six occasions since the 2003-04 campaign. Aside from the five consecutive postseason appearances, the Maple Leafs’ other playoff season came in the 2012-13 season … when they lost to the Boston Bruins in, you guessed it, the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
The Maple Leafs have a chance to exercise a demon on Saturday that has plagued them for the past two decades. They haven’t advanced past the opening round of the postseason since the 2003-04 season, when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals in seven games.
With all of that in mind, here’s a deeper look at how each of those recent postseason appearances came up short.
The 2020-21 NHL season was shortened to a 56-game slate as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic altering the previous campaign. And as a result of United States/Canada border restrictions, the Maple Leafs were forced to play in the North Division, which was comprised entirely of Canadian NHL teams.
Even with the abbreviated season, the Maple Leafs still finished with 77 points and were at the top of the North Division when the regular season wrapped up. Toronto would be matched up against the Montreal Canadiens in the opening round of the playoffs after the Canadiens finished fourth in the division. That’s not too bad for Toronto, right?
This has to be one of the worst postseason defeats in the history of the franchise. The Maple Leafs dropped the opening game of the series, but rattled off three consecutive wins to take a 3-1 series lead. Then the wheels completely fell off. Toronto lost Games 5 and 6 in overtime followed by a 3-1 loss in Game 7. Canadiens netminder Carey Price stood on his head as he stopped 30 of the 31 shots that he faced in the series-deciding contest.
After only allowing four goals in the first four games of the series, goaltender Jack Campbell surrendered a mind-boggling nine goals over the final three games, leading to the Maple Leafs’ elimination. Star center Auston Matthews only scored one goal in the entire series while fellow forward Mitch Marner has held goal-less.
The 2019-20 campaign was completely flipped on its head when the COVID-19 pandemic descended upon North America. On March 12, 2020, the NHL regular season was suspended. The league did decide to return on Aug. 1 with a very different playoff format that featured a Qualifying Round.
The Maple Leafs ended up facing the Columbus Blue Jackets in a best-of-five series. It was very much a back-and-forth series that featured the two teams alternating wins through the first four games. However, in a winner-take-all Game 5, superior goaltending was the story as Blue Jackets goalie Joonas Korpisalo stopped all 33 shots that he faced in a 3-0 Blue Jackets win.
The Maple Leafs were one of the league’s most dominant teams throughout the 2018-19 campaign. Toronto finished the regular season with 100 points, good for third place in the Atlantic Division.
When the postseason rolled around, the Maple Leafs found themselves taking on the Boston Bruins (a familiar foe, which we will go over below), who finished second in the Atlantic Division. The Maple Leafs had the upper hand in the series as they held a 2-1 advantage. But the Bruins ended up winning three of the final four games of the series, including outscoring the Maple Leafs 9-3 over the final two games.
This series did end up becoming Matthews’ coming out party, as he scored five goals. He scored goals in four of the seven games, including a two-goal performance in a Game 4 loss.
Much like the previous season, the Maple Leafs finish third in the Atlantic Division and faced the Bruins in the opening round of the playoffs. The Bruins completely outclassed the Maple Leafs in the first two games of the series, outscoring Toronto 12-4. As a result, the Bruins quickly took a 2-0 series lead. To their credit, the Maple Leafs battled back and won three of the four games, which forced a Game 7.
Game 7 produced an offensive explosion with the two teams combining for 11 goals. Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron led the way with a goal and two assists in a 7-4 win. The Maple Leafs were paced by a two-goal performance from veteran center Patrick Marleau, but the Bruins scored four times in the third period, including two from star winger David Pastrnak. The Maple had held a 4-3 lead entering the final 20 minutes.
For the second time in two seasons, the Bruins were the source of the Maple Leafs’ frustration.
After missing the playoffs the previous three seasons, the Maple Leafs had renewed hope that their fortunes would change entering the 2016-17 season. That was because of the arrival of Matthews, who was selected with the top pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. In the regular season, Matthews burst onto the scene with a 40-goal campaign and ,unsurprisingly, won the Calder Memorial Trophy for the NHL’s top rookie when the season concluded.
The Maple Leafs finished the regular season in fourth place (95 points) in a top-heavy Atlantic Division. Their 95 points were the highest in 12 years, so there was reason for optimism entering the playoffs. The Maple Leafs faced off against the Washington Capitals, who won the Metropolitan Division after an 118-point season that saw them win the Presidents’ Trophy.
It was a closely-contested series that saw five of the six games go to overtime. After dropping a 3-2 overtime decision in Game 1, the Maple Leafs won Games 2 and 3 thanks, including a 4-3 triumph in double overtime in Game 2. However, the Capitals won the next three games by just one goal apiece and eliminated the Maple Leafs in the process. Matthews did have a goal in each of the final four games of the series.