During each of the 2017 to 2022 playoffs, the Leafs pushed their opposing team to the limit and forced a winner-take-all game seven, only to lose their winning opportunity one way or another. Some years it was their lackluster defense, some years their low-scoring offense, and some years it was just plain bad luck. 2023 was supposed to be different: for the first time since 2004, the team finally made it to the second round of playoffs, in six games, overcoming multiple third-period deficits in games three and four.
On April 29, 2023, Maple Leafs captain John Tavares scored the overtime winning goal to send the Leafs to the second round by eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning. This historic goal sent the city into a frenzy, exciting fans, players, and management— sending shockwaves throughout the country and the entire hockey world. With this win, the Leafs have now finally won something and had an enormous weight lifted off of their shoulders.
Due to the skill and experiences of this year’s Leafs team, many fans believed that, if the team managed to win the first round and clean up a few areas of their game, the Leafs would have a real chance at the Stanley Cup. The Leafs celebrated their victory, but quickly shifted their focus to their next opponent: the Florida Panthers. While the Leafs were established as a series favourite, the Panthers were not to be underestimated. In their first round, the Panthers defeated the historic and record-setting Boston Bruins team. Defeating the Bruins in a crucial game seven, the Panthers raced their way into their second-round series against the Leafs, still surging from the high of defeating the greatest regular season team in NHL history.
Expectations and optimism were at all-time highs for the Leafs. During the regular season, the Leafs were the better team, securing a higher seed for the playoffs and home ice advantage. The Leafs were clear favourites, a position they’ve been in before—yet they still found ways to lose. The Leafs lost each of the first three games of the series and would have been swept by the Panthers if they hadn’t won game four. The Leafs ended up losing the series in game five, embarrassing themselves yet again and disappointing millions of fans around the world.
All the Leafs can look forward to doing now is re-emerging as a great regular season team, and getting back to what they did against the Lightning this year in the playoffs. Perhaps the Leafs got lucky in that series. However, they gained crucial experience and now know what they need to do in order to be successful in the playoffs, giving them the best tools for success in the ye\ars to come. It is now up to Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander to make this city proud again, redeem the Leafs, and bring the team to glory.
Locked on Leafs Columnist (Volume 48 & 49) — Omar is in his fourth year at UTM, working towards completing a major in CCIT and double minors in Political Science and Anthropology. Omar loves to keep up with various sports teams, his favourite being the Toronto Maple Leafs. When he isn’t stressing over exams or the Leafs you can find him watching movies, looking at shoes he can only hope to afford, and trying his best to avoid parking tickets on campus.