This edition of my column has been a long time coming. Toronto Maple Leafs fans, we’ve seen first-round losses to Boston, Washington, Tampa Bay, Columbus and Montreal over the years and yet fans continue to cheer this team on.
Now, the team has rewarded our faith in them with the recent defeat of the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, and the Leafs’ first second-round playoff series in 19 years.
Any person who says, “Leafs fans have celebrated too much for the minor accomplishment of winning a playoff series” obviously doesn’t understand this team’s history of futility. Before the narrative began, about the Leafs being unable to get out of the first round, there was a time when this team couldn’t even make the playoffs. The Leafs had adequate and awful years, as they missed the playoffs from 2006 until 2012. Then they suffered a historic collapse, in Game 7 of their first opening-round series in seven years, in 2013, to the Boston Bruins, giving up a three-goal lead in that game. The team would then miss the playoffs for three more years.
I can’t speak for every fan, but for me, while watching this second-round series, against the Florida Panthers, there seems to be a lot less stress and pressure. I’m not used to feeling confident, even when this team loses a playoff game. I think it’s because, no matter what happens in these playoffs from now on, the Leafs have made progress. They’ve ended a 19-year streak, of not having won a playoff series, and they’ve ended a streak of six straight first-round losses. Most of all, though, this team has demonstrated they understand what it takes to win in the playoffs.
That said; yes, I want to see this team go deeper. The Leafs, as many people have been constantly reminded, have not won a Stanley Cup since 1967. A Canadian team had not won the Stanley Cup since 1993, when the Montreal Canadiens took it home. I want to see both of those streaks come to an end.
I think now, Leafs fans can take a breath and savour the moment. I started watching hockey in 2006, and this is the first time I have witnessed the Toronto Maple Leafs have playoff success. This is a new experience, and I plan to enjoy every bit of it.