SIMMONS: Usual unhappy story for the playoff-starved Maple Leafs


All day lengthy, regardless of the place you went round Toronto, regardless of who you talked to, every thing was concerning the Maple Leafs.

All the things was concerning the pleasure of the day — downtown, within the suburbs, nearly in every single place, and finally the joy of the evening.

Town and Leaf Nation had been all ready for a victory. Prepared for some new historical past to be written. Prepared to show the previous into tomorrow. After which Sport 5 of the best-of-seven sequence with the Tampa Bay Lightning started and it was: Right here we go once more for the Maple Leafs.

One other alternative to advance to Spherical 2 of the Stanley Cup playoffs misplaced. One other alternative moved from Sport 5 to Sport 6. One other evening when all these speaking all day — on edge, bottled up emotion, actually — had each motive to imagine they may, and may, anticipate extra from their favorite hockey crew.

However as soon as once more — that is now 10 makes an attempt, zero wins — for the Auston Matthews-Mitch Marner led Maple Leafs. This was one other slap within the face for this regime, which is all about expertise till the sport and the sequence matter most.

There are a variety of new Leafs on this crew, 10 adjustments from the membership that misplaced to Tampa Bay a 12 months in the past, however the high of the lineup is similar.

The highest was not ok once more. The underside was not ok once more.

Tampa received objectives from Mikey Eysimmont, whoever he could also be, Nick Paul, who hadn’t scored in months, Alex Killorn into an empty internet and Anthony Cirelli, their defensive specialist, in beating the Leafs 4-2 on an evening through which Toronto was outplayed by the three-time Stanley Cup finalists, for the fourth time in 5 video games the place the Leafs haven’t been the higher crew.

The Leafs nonetheless lead the sequence 3-2, however the scale appears tilted in favour of the Lightning. And greater than something, that continues to be the query, 12 months after 12 months, sequence after sequence.

Why is it at dwelling, with the town all able to win, the Leafs don’t take the sport to their opponents. They don’t run on the emotion of the group. They don’t reply to the likelihood that’s earlier than them. They don’t do what’s required to win within the Stanley Cup playoffs 12 months after 12 months after 12 months.

They took an early lead and held it for all of 26 seconds. That was their evening. Morgan Rielly, who has been nice within the sequence, scored to make it 1-0. Justin Holl — who maybe ought to think about altering his title to Justin Gap — hasn’t been nice within the sequence. Hell, he hasn’t been ample within the sequence and was partially accountable for Cirelli tying the sport.

This Holl at playoff time downside is nothing new. It was evident a 12 months in the past towards the Lightning.

It was evident once more on Thursday evening. Tampa scored three even-strength objectives towards the Leafs and Holl was minus-3.

Tampa has scored 19 objectives towards Toronto, not counting the empty-netter. Holl has been on the ice for 13 of these. That’s not onerous to quantify. The problem for coach Sheldon Keefe is discovering a solution to change Holl at even power whereas sustaining him on the penalty-kill.

However this evening wasn’t about people as a lot because it was a couple of crew not assembly expectations. This isn’t new anymore. The truth is, it’s gotten approach too outdated. The Leafs misplaced three doable clinching video games towards Boston, one towards Columbus, three towards Montreal, and now three in two seasons towards Tampa Bay — 10 straight instances.

And now they need to win in Tampa Bay on Saturday evening to advance. And failing that, they’ll be again at dwelling on Monday dealing with the identical circumstances.

They have to be first and quick, emotional and bodily and so they had been none of these issues in Sport 5 till late within the third interval after they trailed 3-1. They had been the slow-starting Leafs. They had been the unsure Leafs. They had been the Leafs that successful forgot when it issues most.

Within the three clinching video games towards the Lightning, two of them at dwelling, they haven’t scored greater than two objectives. They scored six objectives in three clinching video games towards Montreal. They had been shut out by Columbus and shut down 3 times by the Boston Bruins.

That they had some alternatives to return again within the third interval Thursday evening, however once more they waited too lengthy to aim to steal the evening. And with it the sequence.

This wasn’t simply a possibility for the Leafs, however a possibility for the most important and richest of Leafs to reverse historical past. To develop into big-time gamers at big-time moments. To indicate up and be counted when it counts essentially the most.

That’s what the playoffs are all about. That’s what this Leafs crew lacks, 12 months after 12 months. There may be nonetheless time to win Sport 6 or win the sequence. However they will’t proceed to return out slowly, and never compete, and never match the emotion of the opposition.

That story is outdated. Getting older by the day. And the joy of Thursday morning and afternoon round Toronto might not be matched once more quickly: The Leafs haven’t gained a sequence in 5 video games since 1963. That was 60 years in the past.

Sure, all of that is getting so very outdated.

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