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Leonidas Dreams of Victory/The Leafs Have a Shot

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One year out of last place, the Toronto Maple Leafs are in a genuine contest with the Presidents’ Trophy winners.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Toronto Maple Leafs at Washington Capitals Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

In the movie 300—I don’t care how bad Zach Snyder’s other movies are, 300 is great, all right?—King Leonidas of Sparta confronts an overwhelming Persian army while outnumbered 30 to 1. His plan is to hold the Persians off in a defensive maneuver as long as possible, hoping to save his homeland. He knows, going in, that he’s doomed. But after the first day of battle, when his force successfully holds off the Persians, he starts to wonder...

Can he hope for more than a glorious death?

Can he actually win this thing?

So far as I know, no one who wasn’t making a homer pick had the Toronto Maple Leafs beating the Washington Capitals in their first-round series (I had Caps in six.) The Capitals were probably the best team in hockey in the regular season, and the Leafs were a dazzling but sometimes frustrating gang of up-and-comers. There was almost no metric that had the Leafs looking like a better team. We were, and are, very heavy underdogs.

But through two road games in Washington, the Leafs have played the Capitals damn near even. And now they’re going home with a 1-1 split, off a double overtime victory that can only be described as epic.

The Caps really are as good as advertised, and it’s possible they’re going to roll off three straight wins to end this one quick. But the Leafs have gone toe-to-toe with the class of the league and they’ve fought them to a draw on the road. They’ve been almost dead even with the Caps in possession terms, they’re even in goal differential—hell, they’ve outscored the Caps at even strength. In short, the talent disparity that you’d expect hasn’t been there. Not because the Caps have been bad, but because the Leafs have been persistently, defiantly, actually good.

It’s still an uphill road ahead. The Caps are the Caps, and the Leafs are now down two of their normal defenders. But win or lose, this team has shown up for another big test, and so far, they have passed with flying colours.

Maybe—just maybe—they can actually win this thing.