For the 5th straight time in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to move out of the opening round of competition. The latest disappointment came in the form of a 3-1 loss to the rival Montreal Canadiens in Game 7 of their Round 1 North Division playoff series - and of course, that came on the heels of blowing a 3-1 series advantage.
Of course, Toronto's latest playoff collapse was a rather sobering statistical reality that they have yet to win a playoff series since the invention of YouTube. The last time they enjoyed playoff success? The rocking Game 7 victory over the Ottawa Senators at the then-named Air Canada Centre in 2004 that saw Sens goaltender Patrick Lalime do his best Swiss cheese impression. It's been over half a century since the Leafs last tasted glory, but don't expect them to be carrying around that burden like a giant piano.
All of that gets put behind them tonight as they hit the ice for the season opener against - you guessed it, the same Habs that packed their bags for them this past spring. And for head coach Sheldon Keefe, he believes he sees more of an "edge" to this year's edition of the team.
“I think all of our players have an additional edge to them for sure,” Keefe said. “They wanted [training camp] to be difficult. They want to get out in front of it. That's what you're looking for a coach with a group like that, that has got reasons to dig in. And I've seen that through camp. They've come together as a group, but it's been very businesslike from the start all the way through, and certainly this morning as well.”
Keefe and the Leafs have adopted "raise the standard" as their new mantra for the year as they hope to put the past behind them and ascend to the heights consistent with the expectations.
“I think [raising the standard] is just about caring. But it's a long season,” said defenceman Morgan Rielly. “So, it'll be interesting to see if we're able to carry that over 82 games and [however many] months. I think that training camp is always intense, and guys care a lot, they come in great shape. So, if we can keep that going for the rest of the season, we'll be in good shape.”
“What it requires ultimately is to try to make sure that our spirit remains high,” added Keefe. “Both in our level of competitiveness and how we enjoy the process that comes with a challenging season. But also, just being around each other, having fun and understanding the things that are happening within our walls.”