It’s Time To Rise Above The Ghosts Of Toronto Maple Leafs Past

TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 15: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Boston Bruins at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
TORONTO, ONTARIO - NOVEMBER 15: Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs skates against the Boston Bruins at the Scotiabank Arena on November 15, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The first question I asked myself after the Toronto Maple Leafs lost game 6 in Montreal was, can I stomach another game 7?  This team…this franchise…makes it hard to be a fan.

Maybe the fact that I’m a fan of the game, the sport, is what has saved me all these years.  Hockey is beautiful.  When the Toronto Maple Leafs fail, I revert to my default setting and remember how much I love the game.

I continue to watch playoff hockey, sometimes finding another team that peaks my interest, as I simultaneously try to recover from the emotional torture of my own team’s failure.

The answer to my question?  Yes.  Of course it’s yes.  Not only can I stomach it, but I welcome it.  I welcome not only the adversity, but the opportunity to destroy the history of failure.  I want to watch this team succeed.  I want to defeat the ghosts.

Toronto Maple Leafs Game Seven

There are two general camps that Leaf fans seem to be in, the “continue the pain” camp and the “I believe in this team” camp.  The first one is full of fans, most of them probably, that will watch in fear and anxiety, having been conditioned to doubt the fact that anything good can happen to this team.

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not your ordinary hockey team.  The team has, in fact, been quite horrible for the majority of it’s existence.  The Leafs are not revered because of their success, it’s because they are part of the cultural identity of what it is to be a Torontonian.  In some ways, it’s even part of what it is to be Canadian.

It’s easy to fall into the trap of worry and frustration when cheering for this team.  I have always put the game above the team, and that is what has kept me from that trap.  When the team is bad, the game is still great, I flush the failure and focus on the game.  Hockey is the straight line that stabilizes the ship when the Leafs are all over the place, and they’re usually all over the place.

With all that in mind, I can say with confidence that I am a member of the “I believe in this team” camp.  This is not the 2013 Leafs.  This is not the 2017-2020 Leafs either.  This is the 2021 Leafs.

I’m in the second camp, not because I’m naïve, but because I am focused on the details of THIS team that is right in front of me.  At THIS moment.  In THIS series.  Forget about the rest of the crap for a minute.  The Leafs are the better team.  I don’t think you can make that argument in any of the past failures that saw this team collapse in various ways against teams that were actually better than them.

The Bruins?  Gut-wrenching.  Catastrophic.  But were the Leafs the better team?  No.  Not in any of the match-ups, none.  Any victory there would have been an upset.

Even the Blue Jackets last year during the play-in round.  The Leafs had a horrible season full of tumultuous drama, and the team lost itself in the process.  It took Sheldon Keefe the off-season and the pre-season to put his stamp on this team, which is normal by the way.  It took Dubas letting the 2019-20 season end so that he can add necessary pieces to this group that they needed.  Bringing in quality veteran leadership to surround and insulate a young core that wasn’t ready to take those steps alone.

Now we have the team that stands before us.  They won their division.  They established an identity of possession and defending.  They played with consistency.  They were led by stars that showed up every day and went to work.  They showed a physical presence when they were pushed.  They showed remarkable goaltending depth and the emergence of Jack Campbell as a difference maker, a guy who gives you a save when you need a save.

This is a great team.  Even without their captain, without Muzzin, this is still the better team in this series.  They just need to remember what got them here.  They just need to execute the same game, with the same identity, that they’ve have played all year long.  Keefe just needs to remind them of their success and get them back to what has defined them for 97% of this season.

Keefe, in his post game, very simply and very accurately described what is going on:

The last two games, the Canadiens have basically changed the game difficulty setting from hard to nightmare, and Leafs aren’t used to playing on that setting.  After two losses to an inferior opponent, it is plainly obvious that they need a full 60 minutes of highly competitive hockey to win.  Keefe will get them prepared to play at this new setting.  The veteran leadership group will lead the way, and the young core will follow.

Not only will they win game 7, but it will get this team playing at a level that is necessary to go on a run.  They will play at a level they didn’t know they could play at, until now.

I believe in the talent of this team.  But, more importantly, I believe in the character of this team.  This is not the same Toronto Maple Leafs we are used to cheering for.  This team has more to give.  This team will break through the wall of failures and they will find that elevated game that every team needs in order to achieve playoff success.

Next. Leafs Top 10 Prospects. dark

Thank you Habs.  Thank you for not going home early.  Thank you for providing the adversity this team needed to reach their full potential.

This team will punch the ghosts in the mouth and never look back.

Go Leafs!