Maple Leafs look to exorcise playoff demons, advance for 1st time in 18 years

The Toronto Maple Leafs are aiming to do one thing on Thursday evening that hasn’t occurred for the franchise in 18 years — advance to the second spherical of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

The franchise has had eight prior alternatives to shut out a first-round sequence because the second spherical drought started in 2004, together with three failed makes an attempt in opposition to the Montreal Canadiens final 12 months the place they held a 3-1 sequence lead.

“It’s obviously been a challenge for us to close out series,” mentioned head coach Sheldon Keefe. “But it’s one that we believe our team has worked for all season and has had that attitude to rise to challenges.”

Another daunting statistic for the Leafs, their opponents haven’t misplaced two straight video games at any level throughout their final three playoff runs, which embody Stanley Cup wins the final two years. The Tampa Bay Lightning are 16-0 coming off a post-season loss throughout that stretch.

Lightning head coach Jon Cooper first appeared to downplay the contrasting historical past of the 2 groups, however hinted that his group might have the psychological benefit.

“We just can’t go out there and throw our sticks on the ice and say ‘well these guys haven’t won in the past, it’s ours,’ but they’re humans too, it’s not like they haven’t thought about this,” says Cooper.

“Until you start winning these games, there’s always going to be doubt in your mind.”

The Leafs hope the narrative shift started after they stormed again in opposition to the defending champs for an exhilarating Game 5 on Tuesday evening. A promising improvement for the Leafs, the staff’s high stars all answered the decision within the comeback win with Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, John Tavares, and Morgan Reilly, all contributing in key moments.

“There was great desperation from the group. I loved the response,” mentioned veteran ahead Jason Spezza.

When the staff was down 2-0 after a dismal first interval on Tuesday, it was Spezza who rallied the troops through the intermission.

“He’s been through a lot, he’s seen a lot, he also knows he doesn’t have a lot of time left so he’s all in,” mentioned Keefe.

Spezza was additionally seen speaking to goalie Jack Campbell after Tampa took a fast 2-0 lead within the first.

“He’s such a leader for everyone,” Campbell says. “When he talks, everybody listens.”

The staff could also be enjoying miles away on Thursday however there’ll nonetheless be an enormous crowd gathered outdoors Scotiabank Arena at Maple Leafs Square. Entry to the tailgate social gathering was booked up shortly after the Game 5 win.

The puck will drop for Game 6 shortly after 7:30 p.m. Game 7, if essential, could be again in Toronto on Saturday.

With information from The Canadian Press

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