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The Leafs Finally Slay Their First-Round NHL Playoff Demons

The rivalry between the Ottawa Senators (and their fans) and the Toronto Maple Leafs dates back to 2004, when the Leafs eliminated the Senators in the playoffs for a fourth time in five seasons. Since then, some Senators fans have grown to hate the Leafs with almost the same intensity they love the Sens.


But for the past 19 years, Sens fans have had bragging rights, winning a Conference Championship and six other playoff series during that time. The Leafs are not only riding the longest championship drought in the NHL (55 years), they hadn’t won a single playoff series since ‘04. In fact, they missed the playoffs in 11 of those years.


On Saturday night, if you live near the bar scene in Ottawa – a city that’s possibly the Leafs’ biggest home away from home – then you probably heard, firsthand, that Toronto finally slayed one of their dragons. Two weeks after the Sens missed the playoffs for a sixth straight season, the Leafs actually won a playoff round, defeating Tampa Bay 2-1 in overtime.


With Tampa scoring in the third to tie Game 6, and looking like the better team in the extra frame, the Leafs looked like they might be in the process of blowing another 3-1 series lead. And when it’s crunch time, Toronto almost never seems to get the bounce they need. But it showed up this time in Game 6 as captain John Tavares’ blind, spin-around shot deflected in off a Tampa player’s skate.


Leaf fans were predictably out-of-their-minds excited – at the rink, on sofas across the country and, of course, on social media.



“It’s obviously special being a Maple Leaf and getting the opportunity to play for the club,” Tavares said. “Obviously growing up in the GTA, you get a sense of the tradition and what it means to the city and the people. You know how big and how incredible Leafs Nation is. Really fortunate to be a Maple Leaf and play for this club.”


There’s the old adage that to win in the playoffs, your best players need to be your best players. Toronto’s best collectively made about $48 million this season and they all showed up in round one.


Mitch Marner: 2 goals, 9 assists

Auston Matthews: 5 goals, 4 assists

Morgan Rielly: 3 goals, 5 assists

John Tavares: 4 goals, 3 assists

William Nylander: 2 goals, 5 assists


Contractually, the clock is ticking on those players (except for Rielly), and the question now is exactly how far can the Leafs go? They ended Tampa’s three-year reign as the Eastern Conference Stanley Cup Finalists. They’ve ended their playoff drought. Can they end the franchise’s 55-year championship drought? Can they end Canada’s championship drought, which turns 30 this spring?


That’s a tall order. After all the hockey they’ve played in the last four years, Tampa Bay has looked for a while now like a team running on fumes. And yet they probably deserved a better fate. They just didn’t get the bounces at the right time, losing not once, not twice, but all three games at home in overtime. No matter how it shakes out, Toronto will now have to plow through three extremely tough opponents, all hungrier than the well-fed Lightning.


Meanwhile, in the coming seasons, it sure feels like the Battle of Ontario is about to get good again.

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