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Round 1

Stanley Cup Playoff postcard: Toronto

Fans line up to enter Maple Leaf Square hours before Game 3 against Capitals

by Tom Gulitti @TomGulittiNHL / Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Hundreds of them started lining up outside Air Canada Centre shortly after 3 p.m. ET on Monday, four hours before Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals was scheduled to begin.

These Maple Leafs fans weren't fortunate enough to have tickets. They came early so they could get a good spot in Maple Leaf Square to watch the game on the 50-foot by 80-foot high-definition screen outside Air Canada Centre. The square holds about 5,000 people.

"I didn't even bother to look for tickets," said Maple Leafs fan Jason Benfietinho from nearby Oakville. "We just wanted to come down and take the game in."

One set of two lower center tickets were listed on StubHub for $50,000 U.S. each Monday morning. That was the extreme high end of the price range. At 4 p.m. ET, two standing room tickets in balcony center were listed for $155 U.S. each.

That was still too much for some fans.

"I'm 16 years old," said one fan, who identified himself as Giuliano Matthews. "I can't afford playoff tickets."

So Giuliano, who might have borrowed his last name from the Maple Leafs star rookie Auston Matthews, settled for the next best thing, even if it meant showing up two hours before Maple Leaf Square opened.

Back when I last covered a Stanley Cup Playoff series here in 2001 Toronto was equally hockey mad, but Maple Leaf Square didn't exist. There were parking lots on the west side of Air Canada Centre.

During the Maple Leafs' postseason drought between 2004 and 2013, that area was redeveloped and filled with apartment and office buildings and a bunch of new restaurants and shops. Maple Leaf Square opened in 2013 when the Maple Leafs faced the Boston Bruins in the first round of the playoffs.

It was packed for Game 7 of that series at TD Garden in Boston and rocking when the Maple Leafs were leading 4-1 midway through the third period. But the fans went home stunned after the Bruins rallied to win 5-4 in overtime.

That disappointment was followed by three lean seasons of the Maple Leafs missing the playoffs before they qualified this season as the second wild card from the Eastern Conference. The playoff hockey-starved fans returned to Maple Leaf Square to watch the first two games against the Capitals at Verizon Center and erupted in ecstasy when Kasperi Kapanen scored 11:53 into the second overtime to give Toronto a 4-3 victory in Game 2 on Saturday.

"I went on Twitter after the game [on Saturday] and saw that when Morgan Rielly scored the 3-2 goal late in the second they were going nuts," Maple Leafs left wing Matt Martin said. "It's definitely insanity around here."

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