The Toronto Maple Leafs flopped in the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Blowing a 3-1 series lead, Toronto dropped a 3-1 decision in Game 7 of the North Division semifinals to the Montreal Canadiens on Monday night on home ice, in the first playoff meeting between the rivals in 42 years.
“It’s really hard to put it into words. We’re obviously devastated, disappointed. We felt we were capable of a lot more. Not just tonight, but in the whole series,” coach Sheldon Keefe said.
The numbers are staggering. The Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. They have eight straight losses in series-clinching games. And they’ve lost a winner-take-all game in four straight postseasons: three Game 7s and a Game 5 in the qualifying round last summer against the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Most importantly, Toronto remains without a Stanley Cup win since 1967. The Maple Leafs were seen as a legitimate contender for the Cup this season after finishing with 77 points atop the North Division — 18 more than Montreal, the heavy underdog that ended their season on Monday night.
“The expectation within the room was high. The goals are higher than what we achieved this year. It makes the disappointment that much worse,” defenseman Morgan Rielly said. “We feel it. We realize we let an opportunity slip [away]. That’s unacceptable by our standards, and that makes the loss a lot worse than anything we’ve had to deal with before.”
The Leafs played a tentative, nervous Game 7. Montreal had scored the game-winning goal in two straight overtimes off of Maple Leafs turnovers. And Toronto looked determined not to make another costly mistake, but that can last for only so long. The first two Montreal goals in Game 7 were the result of two Toronto errors. Leafs winger Mitchell Marner‘s turnover led to a Brendan Gallagher chance the other way, and the Canadiens forward beat goalie Jack Campbell (20 saves) at 3:02 of the second period to open the scoring.
An emotional Campbell took responsibility for the Gallagher goal, calling it “the worst goal of my career” after the game.
“It’s a straight-on shot in the NHL. It should be an automatic save. No excuses. Unacceptable. I just feel bad that the guys worked so hard and that happened tonight,” said Campbell, who was 17-3-2 in the regular season. “The team counts on me to be better, and I know I can be a lot better than that. So I’m going to get back to work and be better.”
Later in the period, Pierre Engvall took the game’s first penalty — a holding call against Montreal rookie Cole Caufield — and Corey Perry scored on the subsequent power play for a confidence-sapping goal to make it 2-0 at 15:25 of the second.
Perry’s goal came on a deflection off his leg, giving the series an eerie symmetry, as it was a collision with Perry’s left leg in Game 1 that put Leafs star center John Tavares on a stretcher and out of the series.
Tavares took an optional skate the morning of Game 7, but was ruled out for action as he recovers from a concussion and a knee injury. Toronto missed him and defenseman Jake Muzzin on Monday night. Muzzin was due to miss a minimum of three weeks with a lower-body injury he suffered in the Leafs’ Game 6 loss, and will now recover in the offseason.
Forward Nick Foligno, the team’s big trade-deadline acquisition, was limited to four games in the series with an injury and managed one assist. Keefe said he was “far from himself, far from 100 percent” in the series.
“Those guys are really important to our team … but despite not having John and Nick, we were in a good spot and didn’t close it out,” Keefe said. “We added enough pieces and depth to be able to deal with those types of situations. There’s zero excuses.”
Tavares and Muzzin didn’t show up in the lineup. The Leafs’ top offensive players didn’t show up on the score sheet.
Auston Matthews and Marner had one goal between them in seven games — Matthews’ tally in Game 2 — after combining for 61 goals in the regular season. Marner hasn’t scored a goal in his past 18 postseason games.
“We didn’t score enough. We didn’t play with the lead. And that made it hard,” said Keefe, referring to Games 5, 6 and 7 in the series, all Toronto losses.
Making it even harder was the stellar goaltending of Montreal netminder Carey Price, who saved his best game of the series for the last, with 30 saves Monday. He was the Canadiens’ best penalty killer in Game 7, as the Leafs went 0-for-2. Toronto’s power play was 0-for-7 in the last three games of the series. Montreal’s was 3-for-6.
“I felt like in every game we have a couple of Grade-A chances right in front of the net that just rolled off a stick or we shot it too early. We’ve gotta have more patience with the puck,” Marner said. “It feels like it’s always the same stuff. We know we’ve gotta be better.