Maple Leafs Game 7 loss column 5424

BOSTON -- For the fourth time in 11 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs bid adieu to their season with a handshake line at center ice of TD Garden after losing Game 7 to the Boston Bruins.

The question is, how many of them will be saying goodbye again in the coming weeks, this time to the Toronto organization?

Admittedly, the Maple Leafs, buoyed by the return of star center Auston Matthews, fought valiantly in a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins in the deciding game of their Eastern Conference First Round series here Saturday.

But lose they did.


Make it one postseason series win in the past 20 years. And six straight Game 7 losses dating to 2013.

Make it a 1-8 record in Stanley Cup Playoff series in which Matthews, forwards Mitch Marner and William Nylander, and defenseman Morgan Rielly -- the bulk of the team’s core -- have appeared.

How do you bring the same band back?

That’s the question for first-year general manager Brad Treliving to ponder.

Moreover, how safe is coach Sheldon Keefe? Even team president Brendan Shanahan?

Those are issues new Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Keith Pelley may have to tackle.

In terms of the players, Keefe was asked about the future of the core and whether he thought it might be able to eventually break through. Keep in mind that that group includes captain John Tavares, who is 1-6 in postseason series with the Maple Leafs.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time and we’ve tried to break through for a long time,” the coach said. “So, you know, any answer is going to fall on deaf ears in that sense. And I get that.

“All I'll say is that the group pulled together to me, and the way it pulled together here in this last week, and through the season, this group was different this year. The core you're referring to isn't different. The guys around were different, the feeling around the team was different, we played different.”

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs and their legion of loyal, long-suffering fans, the result wasn’t.

And afterward, the crushed players were saying many of the same things they’ve stated after so many frequent early playoff exits.

“We've been through a lot together,” Matthews said of the core. “I mean, in the end, it's a game of inches [and] we haven't quite gotten over that hump. But obviously, through the years, you grow and we’ve come extremely close.”

Give credit where it’s due.

Matthews, who won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for most goals in the regular season (69), worked valiantly to return to the lineup for Game 7 after being out since the third period of Game 4 with an undisclosed illness/injury.

Nylander, meanwhile, disclosed that he missed the first three games of the series with migraines, which he said gave him blurred vision. He rebounded to score Toronto’s final three goals of the series.

“It [stinks], to be honest,” he said when asked about the loss. “We were really close and we battled back in the series.

“I don’t know what to say. It’s an empty feeling right now.”

Yes, the Maple Leafs did show fight in coming back from a 3-1 series deficit to force overtime in Game 7. At the same time, consider this: The Bruins did not hold the lead once in the final three games of the series, yet still found a way to advance to play the Florida Panthers in the second round.

That’s because Boston’s biggest star, David Pastrnak, scored the series winner at 1:54 of overtime by beating Marner and Rielly to a dump-in off the boards before deking goalie Ilya Samsonov. Samsonov started in place of Joseph Woll, who sustained an undisclosed injury late in Game 6.

The bottom line: In the clutch, when it mattered the most, the Bruins’ best player was exactly that.

On the other hand, how do you explain yet another game in which the Maple Leafs lacked offense? On a team with four players -- Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares -- who gobble up almost half the team’s space under the NHL salary cap while being counted on to supply goals, this was the 13th time in Toronto’s past 14 playoff games that it scored two or fewer.

In addition, the fizzling power play, featuring plenty of star power, went 1-for-21 (4.8 percent) in the series, a recipe for disaster.

In an interesting twist, Bruins coach Jim Montgomery revealed after the game that former Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock, who was 0-3 in playoff series with Toronto, reached out to him with advice before Game 6. In the end, however, it was Toronto’s inability to finish that led to its demise.

What happens now?

Matthews and Nylander have been locked up with long-term contracts in the past nine months. Marner has one season left on his deal, which includes a no-move clause.

It’s a conundrum facing a talented team that fell short yet again.

“It's mostly hard right now to finish the season like that,” Samsonov said.

Those have become far-too-familiar words in Toronto in recent times.

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