I finish. finally.
The seven-year journey that saw Brendan Shanahan, Kyle Dubas, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner come together to create a Leafs team that was in some ways the best of the modern era but also the biggest flop – that story ends tonight. Or maybe Friday. Or maybe a few days after that. But definitely soon.
It ends in one of two ways. Either with one of the greatest comebacks in playoff history, as a team that can’t win when it matters finds a way to do it four times in a row, and finally, happily, slay its well-earned reputation permanently for always underestimating it. Moment. Or it ends in defeat, perhaps even a humiliating comb-out, at which point the process of finally tearing everything apart begins.
Two paths, heading in opposite directions, but only one destination: one way or another, it’s the end of an era. This is finally over.
If you’re a fan of the Maple Leafs, you’re probably thinking: praise Wendel. We can’t take any more of this. Just let it end.
Which is why today, as we count the hours to Game 4, shouldn’t feel like a funeral. If anything, it’s a celebration. accept it. We’re getting out, however things go. This prison will either open the front doors or collapse around us, but either way, we’ll finally see the sun. It may only be hours away. And that’s a good thing.
This is what you get today. There are no dark states before death, as we say goodbye to a team that is technically still alive but heading towards inevitable crushing defeat. (I already did, in 2021.) You don’t have to worry about how hard this team is to love. (I did, too, earlier this season.) There are no ominous threats about who deserves what if it all ends badly. (I did that a few weeks ago). Not even any howling in the sky about how unfair it all was. (I…well, that’s pretty much been my writing career.)
Not even any analysis of how things went wrong. It may only be hours away, and when the moment comes, you’ll get a raft of comments about it. Some of mine may have been previously written. What can I tell you, this team teaches you about efficiency.
But this is not now. It’s game day, maybe the last day of the season, maybe the last era. You Leafs fans know the drill by now. and awe. Back in the trench, dear friends, one more time.
But I can’t bring myself to serve another helping of the dim misery of this team. i’m done. I’m totally upset. I guess I shouldn’t be a do-or-die playoff opponent because the Maple Leafs beat me.
My first post on the athlete In 2016, where the story was just beginning. The Leafs had just drafted Auston Matthews—top of the page, ex-mustache, looking like an impossible kid—and optimism was everywhere. Matthews scored four goals on his debut. Marner looked good. So did fellow rookie William Nylander. Just a few months after finishing the last die, we wondered how long it would take to get back into the postseason. We didn’t realize it yet, but it was about to happen in year one. It was a great time to be a fan. The word “fun” is used four separate times in that piece.
Then she wrote this: “It’s all good. But it’s fleeting. You’ll have one year of this, Leaf lovers, and one and only. It’ll be gone before you know it.”
Sometimes, I hate being right.
You all know what came next. They lost to the Capitals in six games that year, then began an almost unfathomable streak of five straight years in which the postseason took them to a winner-take-all game. They have lost every one.
And along the way, we got to know all the beats by heart. John Tavares and his thousand-yard gaze. Nylander Defensive Region. Sheldon Keefe and his post-game press conference about how they failed to start on time or play the full 60 minutes again, and it’s not too bad someone whose job it was, what’s the word, coach didn’t have those habits.
That brief moment where you find yourself wondering if Matthews is playing tonight. Marner handles the puck with the grace and poise of a kid laying the mats in “Fortnite.” The always fun and never ending guessing game “Expect The Hurt Bad Target”. And then, inevitably, Dubas stands up to the media vowing to do it all over again. No changes needed. Why mess with success?
Then this year, they finally won. Not a cup, you fool, you idiot, but at least a round one. They didn’t necessarily deserve it against lightning, but no one cared. The rebounds finally went their way, the other team’s goalkeeper finally dropped back rather than automatically switching to Jack Plant, and there was even a missed penalty that went in their favour. Honestly, that last one felt pretty harsh by the hockey gods, but we took it.
They finally made it to the second round. What’s the worst that could happen?
And now this. Of course this. Of course, the Leafs would play the only team that had less success in the playoffs in their last two decades. Of course they will be the favourites, up against a fantastic team who should be happy to be there. Of course he would be the most overpaid and damaged goalkeeper in the league, the jaded coach who should never have been hired, and the entire recruiting class of 2014 except for the only guy with anything good. Of course all things were wrong. Of course it’s 3-0. Of course it’s already over.
Or it’s not over, and the comeback starts now. In a strange way, that would also be appropriate. Does that mean the Hockey Gods had something worse in mind for the next chapter? Sure, but we’ll be driving the 18-wheeler off that bridge when we come to it. The point is, it can happen. Toronto Maple Leafs fans never get what we want, and now many of us just wish this team was gone, so you do the math.
The most likely scenario is one that fits this team’s recent pattern: They win tonight, look great while doing it, we all get some little pulse of hope back, and then they go home for Game 5 on Friday completely soaking wet their bed sheets. That’s an on-brand sentiment, right? The only time the Leafs ever come around is when everyone counts them out — when they trailed the Bruins three games to one in 2018, when they were three goals down in third against the Blue Jackets in 2020, after losing the first game. To Montreal, on the heels of the Zamboni game, after losing the first game to the Lightning this year.
It says the same old papers, and they answer: Not this time! They get you up off the rug, they fight, they earn a little of your respect, and they make you wonder if the novels have finally turned on themselves. Then they answer: Just kidding!
Maybe this is how it goes. Or maybe we’re getting an epic comeback after all. Or maybe they’ll save us all the drama and make tonight another no-show, kick their doors off, and call it the season. who do you know Who even cares?
The point is that this time around, you shouldn’t spend the day with a pit in your stomach. Don’t be afraid of this, embrace it. enjoy it. Throw all superstitions out the door. Change everything. Switch jerseys with your child, even if they’re babies. Especially if they are children.
Allow yourself to believe, at least to begin with. Then allow yourself to turn them on, if they’re worth it, at least in the end. (Never underestimate the joy of watching a good hate watch.) No icy silence for friends and family. No begging the hockey gods for mercy. You’ve been trying it for seven years; You know their answer.
And most of all, do not mourn this ending that is happening before us, because it needs an ending. This silly era this silly team is lost on a burning Viking ship and it’s as good a day as any to get to Valhalla. Go live, then one way or another, stay away.
(Photo by Auston Matthews and Mitchell Marner: Klaus Andersen/Getty Images))
“Coffee ninja. Web fan. Hipster-friendly beer enthusiast. Professional creator.”