The Toronto Maple Leafs won their first NHL Playoff Series in 19 years

The Toronto Maple Leafs won their first NHL Playoff Series in 19 years

TORONTO — The arena outside the empty NHL arena that is home to the Maple Leafs was packed and jumped like a mosh hole in a damp and cold — even Canadian spring — Saturday night.

Farther south in Tampa, Florida, John Tavares scored in overtime against the Lightning to end an agonizing stretch of playoff futility for the Maple Leafs. Kyle Dubas, the team’s general manager, long criticized for insisting on his underperforming roster, exploded to his feet in the ring box, shaking the air like a prizefighter. Behind the bench, Coach Sheldon Keefe was attacked by his assistants, and players discarded their sticks, climbed over the boards and piled on teammates on the ice.

Back in Toronto, near and far from the outdoor crowd watching the game on a huge screen, car horns blared across this long wasteland. Oh Unk! Oh Unk! Oh Unk!

The mob, some crying out, some weeping, Some set off fireworksAnd Suddenly shirtless, flickering like a nightclub crowd. A few dramatic revelers climbed lampposts, hanging with one hand and shooting scenes with the other.

It was a thrilling craze for a city that’s only had a chance to go strong a few times this century: when Sidney Crosby scored the winning goal for Canada in the championship game against the United States at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics; When Jose Bautista’s triple kick (Then the subsequent bat flip heard “around the world”) helped the Blue Jays win an American League Series in 2015; And when the Raptors won the NBA Finals in 2019. Oh Unk! Oh Unk! Oh Unk!

The Leafs, who last won the Stanley Cup in 1967, haven’t made the playoffs since 2004.

“Which is hard to believe!” Chirping Daryl Sittler, the famous Leafs captain who played 12 seasons in Toronto in the 1970s and early 1980s, and still holds the NHL record for Most points scored in a single game of the regular season, with 10.

Mitch Marner, a Leafs right-winger from suburban Toronto, called it a “relief”. All-American star quarterback Austin Matthews called it “very hot” and “a small step in a long journey.”

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after by defeating Ottawa in 2004 Then losing to Philadelphia in the second round, the Leafs missed the playoffs the next season. Then he missed them again. and again. and again. and again. and again. and again. In 2013, they ended their drought, but so were they Surprised by the Bruins In a Game 7 collapse that Torontonians are still cringing about. Then there were three more seasons where she missed the postseason.

“When we lose our first game at home, everyone thinks, ‘Oh, here we go again,’” Sittler said of the lopsided loss that opened this year’s series with Tampa Bay. “But then we win the second, and then we go to Tampa and get some The breaks, unlike other years where the other team got their breaks and fell apart. Boston has kind of ruined our hopes and chances over the past few years.”

He explained it The crowd in Maple Leaf Square cheeringWe want Florida! We want Florida!” The Panthers committed to completing a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit Sunday night in Boston.

When the Leafs drafted Matthews first overall in 2016, they began surrounding him with a multi-million dollar talent — basically Marnerthe fourth overall pick in 2015; Tavares, a free agent signing in 2018; and the right wing William Nylandera 2014 first-round team selection.

However, good regular seasons ended in playoff disappointment. The NHL’s Young Magic left Toronto in a spiritual slump each spring. But Dubas left the heart intact, adding and throwing into the goal and around the edges, locking up Lev’s longest serve, the talented defenseman. Morgan Rileywith an eight-year contract extension in 2021.

“The administration believed in them and they were holding on to these guys,” Sittler said. “We believe in them. And they’ll take us where we think this hockey club can go.”

An unmistakable weight was attached to the Leafs’ season on November 11, when former Leafs star Borje Salming, a Swedish defenseman, He has been enshrined prior to the annual Hockey Hall of Fame.

Salming, who had late-onset amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, had flown to Toronto from Sweden for the occasion despite being unable to speak, struggling to walk and needing a feeding tube. With Sittler and Mats Sundin, the retired Swedish quarterback, by his side, three men who defined Leaf’s long-suffering past stood as her present and future looked on. When Sittler held Salming’s right arm in the air to acknowledge the crowd as they left the ice, the past, present, and future were all one piece.

“I saw a sober look on every player’s face,” said Sittler. “I get really emotional because I think not so long ago that it was Porgy and I, guys, love what we do, playing for the Leafs in a packed house.”

Salming and Sittler came closest to the Stanley Cup in 1978 when the Leafs lost in the Conference Finals. He remembers it not by the year but by the number of games against each team and what they were like: Needing a tough seven game against the Islanders, then losing four in a row against the elite Montreal Canadiens.

When the Leafs achieved another success in 1993-94, reaching the Conference Finals for the second consecutive season, Sittler worked in the front office.

He said, “The city was on fire.” “People were honking their horns up and down Yonge Street, flags were flying.” He added, “It was a long time ago, most of the fans today weren’t even alive when they won the cup again in ’67. It’s been a long time, you know.”

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Toronto knows.

“I experienced the Raptors win in town,” he said. “If it’s leaves, it’s some notches in size. Everyone’s been waiting for it.”

After being embarrassed, 7-3, in Game 1 against the Lightning, the Leafs won by three straight goals, including two on the road in overtime. In Game 4, Toronto trailed 4-1, then scored three third period goals in just over six minutes before winning in overtime. It’s been a season of championships for the Leafs on the ice and off, intergenerationally, in a city that is, to say the least, ready.

“It’s cool to be the Maple Leafs,” said Tavares, who was born in suburban Toronto and played for the Islanders before signing a seven-year, $77 million contract with his favorite boyhood team in 2018. For people, especially with some of the disappointments we’ve had.”

In November, Sittler cried next to Salming over the rigors of ALS, not hockey. Columnist for The Globe and Mail Cathal Kelly wrote that night It was Toronto’s Lou Gehrig moment, “the great picture of Leafs history over the last 20 years.”

Salming died a few weeks later at his home in Sweden.

What no one said out loud was that Gehrig died in June 1941, and the Yankees won the World Series four months later. The Leafs still have a long way to go, but symbology hangs heavily on this franchise, this city.

Sittler remembers that night when Leafs players shook Salming’s hand and he hugged. “There was no drought in the place,” he said. “It’s hard even to write a script like this, to make it happen.”

Now, against Florida, the Leafs would attempt to compose an ending to that unfinished script Salming and Sittler couldn’t write themselves.

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