The Toronto Maple Leafs Weren’t Always the Losers They Are Now

As the saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. The Toronto Maple Leafs did what they do best this post season. They lost in the first round. It wasn’t always this way. Let’s remember the last time they won a series.

The year was 2004. The Toronto Maple Leafs coach, Pat Quinn, had led his team to a regular season record of 45-24-10-3 going into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

At the time, the format had the top seed in the conference play the eight seed, two faced seven, and three met five, leaving the fourth place Leafs to play the fifth place Ottawa Senators.

Though younger fans may not believe it’s possible, the Toronto Maple Leafs took their opponent to Game 7 and won. Little did anyone know at the time that it would be a sight never seen again (at least until 2023 at the soonest). It turns out that it was more likely for a global pandemic to hit the planet than for the franchise to win a series-ending game.

The Toronto Maple Leafs Once Won a Series

The Toronto Maple Leafs were led by their captain, 32-year-old Mats Sundin and a 38-year-old Hall of Fame goaltender, Ed Belfour.

They were joined by a number of key players. The team featured, Nik Antropov (23), Wade Belak (27), Aki Berg (26), Carlo Colaiacovo (21), Tie Domi (34), Ron Francis (40), Tomas Kaberle (25), Ken Klee (32), Brian Leetch (35), Bryan Marchment (34), Bryan McCabe (28), Alexander Mogilny (34), Joe Nieuwendyk (37), Owen Nolan (31), Alexei Ponikarovsky (23), Robert Reichel (32), Mikael Renberg (31), Gary Roberts (37), Matt Stajan (20), and Darcy Tucker (28). As can be seen, there were some very notable names in this mature lineup.

The Sens, coached by Jacques Martin, finished with a regular season record of 43-23-10-6. Their captain, Daniel Alfredsson, was already Toronto’s enemy number one going into the Battle of Ontario.

That’s because in the regular season, when the two clubs met on Jan. 8, 2004, Alfredsson took the opportunity to mock Sundin. The Leafs captain was suspended for the contest because in the previous game, when the Leafs played the Nashville Predators, Sundin threw his broken stick into the crowd after it snapped on an attempted shot

. Coincidentally, with the Sens in Toronto, blowing out the Leafs 7-1, Alfie’s stick broke in almost an identical manner as Sundin’s had. That’s when Sens’ Swede decided to mock his fellow countryman. Alfredsson pretended to throw his broken stick into the crowd, much to the ire of the Leafs squad.

With players like Radek Bonk (28), Martin Havlát (22), Hall of Famer Marián Hossa (25), Bryan Smolinski (32), Jason Spezza (20), and the incredible defensive duo of Zdeno Chara (26) and Wade Redden (26), the Senators were a formidable opponent.

Ottawa took the opening game of the series 4-2. Things didn’t look good for the Leafs but they bounced back in Game 2 on home ice to even the series after blanking the Sens 0-2. They regained home ice advantage when they finished Game 3 by the same score in the nation’s capital. The Sens took Games 4 and 6 with the Leafs posting their third 0-2 win of the series in Game 5.

Game 7 was back in the Big Smoke on Apr. 20, 2004. Chad Kilger opened the scoring with his first of the playoffs at 6:19 in the opening frame. Then, Nieuwendyk, who was outstanding all series, added two more goals before the period came to a close. The Senators managed only one goal in the second period off a shot from Vaclav Varada. The only other goal of the game came off the stick of McCabe to seal the 1-4 victory for the Leafs.

After eliminating Ottawa, the Buds progressed to the Conference Semi-Finals to try and do the same to the Philadelphia Flyers. Unfortunately, that’s not what happened. Toronto managed to escape with only two victories and lost Game 6 in overtime allowing the Flyers to advance to the Conference Finals. Philadelphia lost that series to the eventual Stanley Cup winners, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

There’s always next year. Unfortunately, that’s the all too familiar mantra for the organization but, there’s always next year.