Can the Toronto Maple Leafs break their jinx and advance past the first round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004? It’s a question that keeps Maple Leafs’ fans awake at night. Certainly, there’s a lot of pride, hopes, and dreams riding on this team.
But, the postseason has not been especially good for the Maple Leafs. It isn’t as if they’ve had poor teams. In fact, that’s one of the biggest problems the team has had – increased expectations. But the first round of the postseason has not treated the Maple Leafs well.
Currently, the roster is high-profile, skilled, and earns a lot of money. Those facts themselves do not win playoff series. But what about this season?
I believe this team is one of the best and deepest that’s been put together since I’ve covered the Maple Leafs. In this post, I’m going to share what I believe are eight reasons why this particular season might be THE season the team breaks through with a victory in round one.
Reason One: This Team Is Highly Talented
This Maple Leafs’ team is one of the most talented teams the franchise has put together in a long time. Forwards like Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, and William Nylander are the stars. But the depth is strong as well.
In short, the team has the skilled players to win.
Reason Two: The Maple Leafs’ Roster Is the Deepest For Many Seasons
The roster the Maple Leafs can throw out on the ice is one of the deepest rosters they’ve had in quite some time. Returning players Pierre Engvall, Ilya Mikheyev, and Alex Kerfoot are all having career seasons. Newcomers Ondrej Kase, Michael Bunting, and David Kampf have filled the holes quite nicely.
There are very few holes from the top to the bottom on this roster.
Reason Three: The Maple Leafs Have Auston Matthews
I know I’ve noted Auston Matthews; however, he’s worth mentioning as a reason all by himself. He’s one of the best NHL players to come along in a long time. He’s a generational player. And, he’s both maturing and hot at the right time.
Matthews is coming off a season where he’s scored 60 goals and 106 points. He’s the league’s first 60-goal scorer in 10 seasons. He’s also a great defensive player and is almost unstoppable on both sides of the rink. His 200-foot game is amazing.
Reason Four: Jack Campbell Is Over His Injury and Playing Well
Jack Campbell started the season well but he fell off when he was injured. He’s back and his last games have been as good as the games in which he started the season. He threw a shutout at the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 1 of the playoffs but fell off during Game 2.
Still, if Campbell can carry over his recent strong play, he’ll be adequate enough to keep his team in the game. That might be enough for the Maple Leafs’ offense to carry the load.
Reason Five: Matthews Isn’t Alone on This Roster
Matthews is sensational, but he has help. Mitch Marner’s game has stepped up a notch. Whereas he’s sometimes disappeared during earlier postseasons, in two games thus far he’s scored in both games. He’s a smart and skilled player who’s playing with confidence.
With Matthews and friends, the Maple Leafs have three other players who have scored at least 27 goals in Mitchell Marner, William Nylander, and John Tavares. The team averages 3.8 goals a game, which is the fourth-best in the NHL.
Reason Six: The Maple Leafs Have Shown What They Can Do
Game 1 was an example of how the Maple Leafs can play. They dominated the game, even when they were killing off penalties. They were faster and more physical. They pressured both on offense and defense, and they protected Campbell in goal.
Game 2 was mistake-ridden, and it showed. However, eliminate those mistakes and you have a great chance of winning the first-round series.
Reason Seven: The Maple Leafs Defense Is Solid
For the first time in many seasons, the Maple Leafs’ defense isn’t the weak link on the team. This defense is led by Morgan Rielly, newcomer Mark Giordano, Jake Muzzin, and T.J. Brodie. Newcomer Ilya Lyubushkin has looked solid at times and is physical. Timothy Liljegren has replaced Justin Holl as the sixth defenseman.
It’s as solid a unit as the Maple Leafs have had in many seasons.
Reason Eight: The Maple Leafs Are Simply Tired of Losing
The Maple Leafs have been eliminated during the opening round of the last five postseasons. This was after they’ve put up at least 95 point regular seasons in three of those seasons. They are sick of losing and have more to prove than the Lightning, who’ve won the Stanley Cup two seasons in a row.
The task isn’t easy, but the Maple Leafs can win this series. It might go seven games, but if it does they will be playing that Game 7 in front of their hometown fans – and these fans have been outstanding.
If the Toronto team shows up that COULD show up, they likely won’t lose round one again.
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