Seven Musings: Leafs and fans know next step is hardest

At some point in the middle of Game 5, I tweeted a GIF of Lucy stripping the ball from Charlie Brown. Again. Bring down the hero of the Peanuts. Again. Like he does every time Lucy pushes him to try and kick the ball.

It was a reference to referees, whose standard for penalties in the playoffs never seems to quite match the standard set in the regular season. Usually the whistles are swallowed in the post-season. Now they are soaring at a rate well above inflation.

But a few of my keen-eyed Twitter followers suggested the GIF was more relevant if Lucy was representing the Leafs and Charlie Brown was the fans.

How right they are. Because now we’re at it again: the Leafs have a chance to knock out an opponent and win an inning, giving their fans hope. At the same time, it’s something that hadn’t happened since 2004.

In 2018, the Leafs lost Game 7 to Boston. In 2019, they lost Games 6 and 7 to Boston. In 2020, they lost Game 5 (in a best-of-five qualifying series) to Columbus. In 2021, they lost games 5, 6 and 7 against Montreal. It’s 0 for 7 — 0 for 4 at home (although only one of those games featured a packed Scotiabank Arena/Air Canada Centre).

The Leafs now get two opportunities: Thursday in Tampa and failing that, Saturday in Toronto.

Let’s hope Leafs fans – who really deserve better – will say something other than “Damn.”

As always, if you have a question, email me at [email protected] and I’ll answer it in the next Mailbag. Let’s enter some questions.

To the seven dreams:

1. The coming-from-behind nature of the Leafs’ win is pretty rare, according to NHL stats. For the Leafs, it was their eighth comeback postseason win with multiple regulation goals, and the first since Game 6 of the 2002 conference semifinals against the Senators. It was also the second time in franchise history that the Leafs had won a multi-goal playoff win over the defending Stanley Cup champions. The other example was against the Canadians in Game 4 of the 1945 semi-finals.

2. Coach Sheldon Keefe was asked if the comeback win could be a defining moment for the team. I liked his answer. “Well, I don’t think tonight is going to matter if we don’t take the next step, the hardest step. But I’m confident that if we manage to do that, we’ll consider tonight like a great moment for our team. But we can’t live in this moment. This moment is now over. And we take the experience and we look at what we learned, and the confidence to take from it and the time that we we have to move forward. But you have to know what’s ahead of you. You know it’s going to be the hardest part. So we have to focus on the next one.

3. Upon retiring, Patrick Marleau said he believed Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner would win the Stanley Cup one day. He didn’t say the Leafs would win the Cup, or it would be this season, so take that for what it’s worth. But I believe it. These two will retire with their names on the Cup.

4. Matthews now has five game-winning goals in the playoffs. The only Leafs with more are Teeder Kennedy (11), Frank Mahovlich (nine), Mats Sundin (seven) and Harry Watson, Nick Metz and Dave Keon (six each). Which has some wondering: Who is Nick Metz? He is a four-time Cup champion with Toronto. Played 517 games from 1934 to 1948.

5. John Tavares downstairs is the elite. His game is from 10 feet. If he had been invisible, it was because his teammates were not bringing the puck to the areas where he could be most effective. He’s supposed to screen, deflect, rebound, get the puck, create chaos. For him to be effective offensively, his teammates must shoot. Think of all those times you say they spend too much. So think what it’s like for Tavares.

6. I don’t know where to put Jack Campbell in the Leafs goalie pantheon. Some nights he’s Mike Palmateer at his best, or James Reimer at his “just OK”. Some nights it’s Curtis Joseph or Ed Belfour.

7. Justin Holl has his critics, but the way a Toronto media colleague framed his question about the defender the other day was childish, selfish and unprofessional. This ensured that a truly usable answer as to why Holl started Match 4 would not be available.

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