I don’t know that I can speak for everyone else, but I know that I am not having a good time watching this series. Against all odds, because of course, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going the distance against the Montreal Canadiens. A team the Maple Leafs owned during the regular season to the tune of a 6-2-1 record, then proceeded to own for four more subsequent games this postseason until they found a way to completely collapse under the weight of their own deeply ingrained ineptitude. Perhaps I’m fortunate that I’m a lot younger than many other long suffering Maple Leafs fans and don’t have much of anything in the way of pre-2005 lockout Maple Leafs memories. To be completely honest, I don’t even know what’s worse: The years of complete bumbling lunacy that defined this team between 2006 and 2013, culminating with “It Was 4-1”, or this current era of rebuilding, seeing a product that genuinely looks like it’s going to go somewhere, only to have your heart ripped out over and over and OVER again.
Perhaps the Maple Leafs win Game Seven. To be completely honest, the circumstances are there and it wouldn’t be the most shocking thing to happen. Do we really even care? Anything resembling the momentum of this series has been completely taken out of the Maple Leafs hands. It’s bordering on cartoonish how this hockey team has repeatedly struggled to find a way to close things out and display anything resembling a killer instinct.
Sheldon Keefe: "The games have gotten harder, Montreal's played better and we haven't dealt with it well."
— Chris Johnston (@reporterchris) May 30, 2021
What’s even worse is that perhaps for 5 of the 6 games the Leafs have come out as the better team. Certainly for at least four of those games. It’s nothing short of befuddling how year after year, some of the league’s brightest stars, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner in particular during this go around, fail to show up when everything is on the line. It’s agonizing how, once again, the Maple Leafs are struck by injuries to key players down the stretch and forced to rejig. It’s understandable that nobody is playing healthy at this point of the calendar. But to lose your captain, your most steady defender, and to have your biggest deadline acquisition all go down to injuries during this series is something out of a Hollywood movie. Also, not to project too much, but I’m also pretty sure that most of those films end with the underdog little guys coming through and beating the bullies, which doesn’t seem like a great omen for Monday night.
I don’t have answers. I really wish I did. What do you even change if you’re Sheldon Keefe? Sure, you can tinker here and there with the fourth line, or put William Nylander in place of Mitch Marner, who has been a complete ghost for this series, on the first line. Marner’s play, in particular, is especially concerning given that we saw a similar lack of production last August when the Maple Leafs fell in five games to the Columbus Blue Jackets. To be honest, it all just feels like shuffling chairs on the deck of the Titanic. The Maple Leafs need to find something, ANYTHING, resembling a spark, and nothing appears to be on the horizon. Maybe they put Nick Robertson in for a game? Or give Timothy Liljegren a shot? It all just seems so pointless. As the big four goes, so goes this hockey team, and unfortunately, thanks to several factors like an unsustainably low shooting percentage, this team’s big four has not been there when they’ve needed to be (for some unfortunately because of things out of their control).
And so, I beg the question: What is there to even do? As much as I’m distraught by this team, I know that I’ll be tuning in on Monday at 7 PM, ready for the puck to drop with my good luck jersey on, likely feeling the same dread I felt during any number of the Maple Leafs last do-or-die games. Or perhaps this time, after blowing a completely winnable series lead and dominating on the way there, I’ll be feeling something more along the lines of despair and apathy. Who knows. Maybe, as Steve Dangle so often puts it, Charlie Brown will finally kick the football. All the signs for a win certainly seem to point in the Maple Leafs favour. The team holds home ice, they’re theoretically the better team, and ideally, they come out with some desperation to fuel themselves so as to avoid disaster yet again. As is normally the case with the Maple Leafs, however, you simply don’t know what effort you’re going to get on any given night. Additionally, probabilities clearly don’t seem to apply to this team, so you can throw those right out the window as well. With all this said, here’s hoping that we’ll get the opportunity to watch the 2021 iteration of the Maple Leafs more than just one last time. Here’s equally hoping that the players won’t be left licking their wounds after what, even with a win, will probably be looked back upon as a pretty disappointing first round. Or perhaps disappointment is what one should come to expect when making a habit of watching this hockey team.