Game 7’s have officially become less fun and entertaining, and more stressful and disheartening. The worst part about this game 7 in particular, was that Toronto sat in the driver seat for most of the series, and could not finish the job. They looked as though they were going to bring home the series and prove their doubters wrong.
Somewhere in the midst of all the hype, over the potential series win, the Maple Leafs might have forgotten that the fourth win was the hardest to get. No, they did not play poorly in game six or seven. In fact, they played well in both games and may have even been considered the better team throughout the series, but Toronto had their chances and failed to capitalize.
The reason Toronto lost that game and the series was not largely in part because of Mike Babcock’s usage of his stars, or lack thereof but because Toronto simply was unable to capitalize when it mattered most. Sounds cheesy, but it’s the truth. By chances, I don’t mean the obvious power play opportunities or breakaways, but the underappreciated shin pad garbage goal, or a turnover by a Bruins defenceman that lead to a goal scoring opportunity or any other goal scoring chance that was created by a lucky bounce for that matter.
It genuinely seemed as though only Boston was granted these lucky bounces that certainly defined the series. Not an excuse, simply just facts. That being said, Boston does play a tight, mistake free style of game, BUT the chances were there on more than a few occasions.
Toronto also failed to have their All-Stars show up together. No, I am not saying Toronto’s stars were invisible but I am saying in a seven game series, I would have liked to see more than one-star player score in a game. Boston had three games in the series, where at least two of their big three players scored a goal. Game 1 was the only game Toronto had at least two of their big three score in the same game, which is slightly skewered due to an empty net goal.
Marchand, Pastrnak, and Bergeron combined for 20 points in the series, while Matthews, Marner, and Tavares combined for 15. Four of those points came in the game 1 blowout. This is simply not good enough. Toronto might have been the better team in at least four of seven games, but their inability to score on the limited chances they had and more specifically on the man advantage, essentially ended their season.
To me, game 7 was a perfect metaphor for how the Maple Leafs season played out as a whole. At any point this season, when things looked to be trending in a positive direction for Toronto, controversy stood in it’s way, hindering the Maple Leafs’ opportunity to ever flourish as a team. This essentially started in the off season. Toronto signed John Tavares. Good. William Nylander sat out until December. Bad. Toronto had a great start to the season. Good. Matthews and Andersen get hurt. Bad. Toronto had the opportunity to send 2 players to the All-Star game (Matthews, Tavares) which easily could have been 5, if the format allowed it (Rielly, Marner, Andersen). GREAT. End up having a mediocre second half of the season, that was plagued with injuries and ultimately lead to a first round exit. Bad. This team was the exact definition of a rollercoaster.
Was it wrong to have had high expectations for this team heading into the season? Absolutely not. I would have been worried if there weren’t, but to say that this season was a failure is a bit harsh. Toronto did finish the season with a good record of 46-28-8 which was enough for 100 points. 100 Points. 7 points off of the second place Calgary Flames, IN THE NHL.
I get it Babcock haters, I really do. His flaws became ever so evident during this post season stint but is it really worth firing him over? Three straight years of playoff hockey and the coach is suddenly not good enough? He, much like Jake Gardiner and William Nylander has bequeathed the role of the scape goat and with fair reason, but I do think that he deserves at the very least, one more chance. Maybe he hasn’t brought Toronto to the promise land, or even a first round win for that matter, but I’ll be the first to say that three years ago, the promise land was the NHL playoffs first round and he has done just that. Three years in a row.
Sure, maybe this play off series might have been a bit of a wasted opportunity for Toronto, but the strides this team made from last season were noticeable. This “5-year plan” that every fan was more than OKAY with four years ago seems to have been forgotten. Maybe it’s because this team does have a ton of talent, and should have made a deeper playoff run this year, but this team is officially entering year five of its “Shanaplan” so I remain unworried and faithful to the management and this coach.
Sure, there will be a million questions to ask this off season, and majority will be towards Dubas and how he manages to re-sign some key pieces, but any questions regarding Babcock’s future as head coach of the Maple Leafs should maybe come one year from now, after they make their first deep post reason run.