Even after a bad start to the game where the Leafs looked flat-footed and gave up two quick goals, I was always confident the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to get back into the game and maybe, somehow, win Game 5 to send the Montreal Canadiens packing. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen, but I carried that optimism because I didn’t see the Leafs get desperate at any points during the game.
Apart from Sheldon Keefe’s arguably correct benching of Rasmus Sandin, it was business as usual for the Leafs. They played to their system, never needing to overextend themselves because they were confident they could put up the goals. And gosh darn it they did, even after going down 0-3. A three-goal comeback to send the game to overtime, where a split second turnover somehow had five Leafs caught. That extra frame did make it look like they got ahead of themselves.
But you live and you learn, and the Leafs have a great chance to close out the series on Saturday night, in front of hopefully 2,500 upset fans.
I choose to be encouraged this playoffs because this season’s Leafs have shown growth and maturity. They don’t buckle under leads and look terrified when their opponent tries. They don’t have Tyler Bozak at 1C, or Dion Phaneuf at 1D. This is a top-five team that has shown the ability to stave off swings in emotion. Because of that, I feel like I can do the same for them. If they lose at some point somewhere between tomorrow and July, yeah it’ll suck, but I’ve never felt solace in thinking my team was going to blow it at any time. It’s going to feel shitty regardless, so why not enjoy the highs and manifest hope during the lows.
Looking ahead to Saturday, I know a lot of people are rightfully worried that the crowd in Montreal is going to affect the Habs in a good way and the Leafs in a bad way. I think that’s totally possible since we haven’t seen fans in front of this season’s teams. But I go back to the guys who wrote the book on winning a championship in Toronto: the Raptors. To them, winning that last all-important game on the road in Game 6 was just a good old fashioned business trip. Focus on the job, don’t worry about the circus around you. If the Leafs can avoid the circus in Montreal, they’ll be seeing the Winnipeg Jets* next week.
Various Leafs and Branches
After tomorrow’s Vegas Golden Knights vs. Minnesota Wild Game 7, the Leafs and Habs will be the last series of the first round. The second round starts with Colorado playing either Vegas or Minnesota on Sunday.