Maple Leafs looking to rewrite history in Game 7 against Canadiens

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The Toronto Maple Leafs enter Game 7 of the Stanley Cup First Round against the Montreal Canadiens at Scotiabank Arena on Monday (7 p.m. ET; CNBC, CBC, SN, TVAS) with the prospect of rewriting history or being history.

The Maple Leafs, who built up a 3-1 lead in the best-of-7 series before losing the past two games in overtime, haven’t won a playoff series in 17 years. Since that time, they have qualified for the postseason six times, with this being the fifth of those series to go down to the deciding game, and are 0-7 in series-clinching games.

However, coach Sheldon Keefe said his team has to forget about their past failures if they want a chance to face the Winnipeg Jets in the second round.

“We’ve talked with the many messages we’ve had through training camp, and one of them was to block out the noise through the regular season,” he said. “There’s no more important time to be doing that than here right now.”

 

[RELATED: Complete Canadiens vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]

 

Easier said than done, especially if they don’t get more production out of Mitchell Marner and Auston Matthews. The two forwards have combined for one goal (from Matthews) on 49 shots in the series, indicating that the chances have been there but the finishing hasn’t.

In the regular season, Marner led the Maple Leafs and was fourth in the NHL with 67 points (20 goals, 47 assists) in 55 games. Matthews led the League with 41 goals in 52 games and was tied for fifth with 66 points.

“In a game of this magnitude, those guys need to be difference-makers for us,” Keefe said.

They haven’t been able to do that in the past.

In their two previous Game 7s, Marner has one assist and Matthews doesn’t have a point. Both were also held without a point in Toronto’s 3-0 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the fifth and deciding game in the Stanley Cup Qualifiers last season. 

Despite their struggles, defenseman Morgan Rielly said he doesn’t believe the bulk of the blame for Toronto’s postseason struggles should fall on the shoulders of Marner and Matthews.

“It’s two guys working very hard who are extremely important to this team,” Rielly said. “I don’t think anyone’s as hard on each other than they are. They expect to produce, and they’re doing a great job for us. 

“Two great players who I expect will be prepared for a big challenge tomorrow.”

Truth be told, no one on the Maple Leafs has been able to help them break through in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in almost two decades.

The Maple Leafs have not won a playoff series since 2004, when they eliminated the Ottawa Senators in seven games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Joe Nieuwendyk was the Game 7 hero in that series, scoring twice in the first period of a 4-1 victory.

But as I mentioned earlier, Toronto’s postseason results have been bleak since that time, especially when it comes to Game 7s.

The run of heartbreaks began against the Boston Bruins in the 2013 Eastern Conference First Round. The Maple Leafs led 4-1 midway through the third period, but the Bruins scored three times, including twice in the final 1:22 of regulation, to force overtime, when Patrice Bergeron completed the comeback and ended the series.

In 2018, with Matthews, Marner and Rielly making up its young core, Toronto carried a 4-3 lead into the third period of Game 7 only to have Boston score four unanswered goals en route to a 7-4 win. 

In 2019, the Bruins eliminated the Maple Leafs again, this time with a convincing 5-1 win after forcing Game 7 with a 4-2 victory in Game 6 in Toronto.

Last season, the Maple Leafs seemed to have all the momentum heading into Game 5 against the Blue Jackets. With their season on the line in Game 4, they tied it with three goals in the final 3:57 of regulation before Matthews forced the deciding game at 13:10 of overtime.

Once again, the stage was set for heroics. And once again, Toronto’s efforts to advance fell short when Columbus goalie Joonas Korpisalo made 33 saves in the 3-0 win.

But Matthews doesn’t care about any of that. During his postgame availability after the 3-2 overtime loss to the Canadiens in Game 6, he said the focus of the Maple Leafs is to change the narrative about their recent shortcomings in the postseason.

“We’ve been on the other end of the stick in these games, so we’d obviously like to rewrite that script,” Matthews said.

“We have a great opportunity come Monday, so we’ll be ready to go.”

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