For the third time in seven years, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins face off in a Game 7 on Tuesday night. Recent results have Maple Leafs fans in a tizzy as they hope for their first Game 7 win since 2004.
Given this is just Toronto’s fourth playoff appearance in the last 14 years, they haven’t had a lot of opportunities to reach a Game 7, but in the two they have played, both were losses to Boston. But prior to that, the Leafs actually had a winning record in Game 7s from the 21st century.
So, this being the most on-edge day of the season for Maple Leafs fans, we decided to aggravate those nerves a little more by looking back at every Game 7 Toronto has played since 2000. Some of those were a success, but more than a few ended in heartbreak.
2018: Lost Game 7 to the Boston Bruins
With back-to-back wins (and three of the last four heading in) the Maple Leafs were looking good against Boston last season. They had outscored the Bruins 12-9 from Games 3-6 and trailed for only 35 seconds in Games 5 and 6. Despite heading to TD Garden for Game 7, the Maple Leafs won Game 5 there on the back of an excellent, 42-save effort by Frederik Andersen.
Even the start to Game 7 looked promising. Toronto opened the scoring just 2:05 into the first period, which when you consider they had the league’s second-best regular-season record when scoring first (39-8-3), was as good a start as Leafs fans could have asked for. Even after Boston scored to tie it, Patrick Marleau scored for a second time — but by the time the first period ended, Boston fired back to take a 3-2 lead.
Second-period goals by Travis Dermott and Kasperi Kapanen (short-handed) gave the Leafs a 4-3 lead heading into the third. But that’s when Jake Gardiner’s nightmare of a game came into focus.
Gardiner was on the ice for three of the four third period goals against, most notably being beaten badly by Jake DeBrusk on what turned out to be the game-winning goal. He finished minus-5 that evening. Toronto allowed four unanswered goals against to drop the game 7-4, but it wasn’t the first time the Leafs blew a game against Boston in this fashion…
2013: Lost Game 7 to the Boston Bruins
Yes, yes. It was 4-1. Every Leafs fan still has nightmares about this game.
In the lockout-shortened season, the pre-completed rebuild Maple Leafs got to the playoffs for the first time in the salary cap era and came in strong, finishing the regular season with an 8-1-3 stretch. In this series, the Leafs also came into Game 7 following back-to-back 2-1 wins and goalie James Reimer seemed to be heating up.
A couple of goals from Cody Franson saw Toronto head into the third period with a 2-1 lead, and they also held a 20-13 shot advantage at that point. Phil Kessel and Nazem Kadri made it 4-1 before the period was even six minutes old and it looked like Toronto would head into the second round.
Not so fast.
Nathan Horton made it 4-2 and in the final 1:22 of regulation Milan Lucic and Patrice Bergeron scored to tie it up. Then just 6:05 into extra time, Bergeron scored again to down the Leafs. Toronto would miss the playoffs the next three seasons in a row, and when they returned the team was much different. Heading into 2019’s Game 7 on Tuesday night, Gardiner will be the only Leaf on the ice who was in the lineup for Game 7 in 2013.
2004: Won Game 7 against Ottawa Senators
In an entirely different era, this was the last of a six-year playoff streak for the Maple Leafs during which they had some legitimate Stanley Cup hopes. That run included two trips to the Eastern Conference final and in 2004, their 103 regular season points were fifth best in the NHL and, at the time, the most in team history.
In a very low-scoring series, Ed Belfour headed into Game 7 with three shutouts, but the Leafs and Sens had scored 10 goals apiece through Game 6. Ottawa was coming off a 2-1 double-overtime win.
Toronto had Ottawa’s number, knocking them out in four of the previous five Stanley Cup playoffs. The dynamic in this series was very similar to what surrounds today’s Toronto-Boston rivalry, though the Maple Leafs were on the winning side.
In Game 7, the Leafs jumped out to a 3-0 advantage on goals from Chad Kilger and a couple of weak ones by Joe Nieuwendyk, the second of which was a back-breaker in the dying seconds of the first period. Vaclav Varada made it 3-1 just 22 seconds into the second period, but that’s all the offence the Senators could muster. Bryan McCabe made it 4-1 midway through the third period and the Leafs, thanks in large part to Belfour who finished with a stellar .954 save percentage in the series, moved on to Round 2, where they lost in six games to the Philadelphia Flyers.
2003: Lost Game 7 to Philadelphia Flyers
Sitting as the fifth seed in the Eastern Conference, and holding the ninth-best regular-season record in the league, Toronto did not hold home-ice advantage against the Flyers. Philadelphia had outscored Toronto 18-14 through the first six games, but the series already had three overtimes (a couple that went into double overtime and another that needed a third extra period).
Toronto forced Game 7 after Travis Green scored the double OT winner, but Game 7 played out much the same way it had in two of Philadelphia’s previous wins in the series. It was a very one-sided finale, with Simon Gagne and Justin Williams giving the Flyers a 2-0 first-period lead. Keith Primeau made it 3-0, and it was 5-1 when the second period finished. Mark Recchi, Claude Lapointe, Dimitri Yuskevich and Williams all had three points for Philadelphia, who easily moved on with a 6-1 win.
2002: Won Game 7 against Ottawa Senators
After beating Ottawa in the first round the previous two seasons — sweeping the Sens in 2001 — this time the two geographical rivals met in Round 2. The Leafs finished the regular season with 100 points for just the second time in team history, wrapping up with the league’s third-best record behind Detroit and Boston. And since the Bruins were knocked out in the first round, the Leafs were the best team still standing in the East. Both Ottawa and Toronto had Top-5 offences.
The Senators actually cruised to a 5-0 win in Game 1. Toronto needed a Gary Roberts goal in the third overtime of Game 2 to keep from dropping the first two at home, but they never led the series through the first six games. Between Games 2 and 6, four of the five games were decided by a single goal and the Leafs had to overcome a 2-0 Ottawa lead just 4:39 into the first period of Game 6 to even force a seventh game.
Toronto held Ottawa to just 19 shots in Game 7 as Curtis Joseph, in his last season with Toronto, earned the shutout. Alexander Mogilny scored twice and Bryan McCabe added a third as the Leafs advanced to their second conference final in four years with a 3-0 win.
2002: Won Game 7 against New York Islanders
This marked the first playoff appearance for the Islanders since they were swept out by the Rangers in 1994.
Toronto jumped out to a 2-0 series lead by outscoring the Islanders 5-1, but was outscored 10-4 the next two games. A couple of lopsided wins both ways in Games 5 and 6 forced a Game 7 and Leafs fans were on edge after falling behind 1-0 on an Alexei Yashin goal just 3:41 into the first period. But Toronto scored the next three, and though a Kip Miller goal in the third cut Toronto’s lead to one, Mogilny sealed it with 40 seconds left as the Leafs went on to a 4-2 victory.
The Leafs got out of the first round despite Joseph posting just an .891 save percentage, the lowest mark of his four-year stint with the Leafs.
2001: Lost Game 7 to New Jersey Devils
In this six-year run of playoff appearances for Toronto, this 2000-01 team was the worst of the bunch, finishing seventh in the East and 16th overall with a 37-29-11-5 record. But it swept past Ottawa in Round 1 to set up a rematch in Round 2 against the trapping New Jersey Devils, who knocked out the Leafs in six games the season prior.
Despite being outshot 32-17 in Game 1, the Leafs came out with a 2-0 win thanks to a terrific effort from Joseph. In Game 2, the Devils held a 4-1 lead at one point, but a four-goal third period for Toronto — capped off by a tying goal from Steve Thomas with just 23 seconds left in regulation — forced overtime, where the Devils came out ahead.
The Leafs dropped Game 3 in overtime as well, but won both Games 4 and 5 before the Devils took another in Toronto to force a Game 7. And even though it got this far, New Jersey had controlled much of the play this series, outshooting Toronto 186-132 heading into the deciding game.
And that fact really showed itself in Game 7, bringing back memories of Toronto’s Game 6 loss to New Jersey in 2000, during which the Leafs were held to an embarrassing six shots on goal. This time, even though Toronto held a 1-0 lead after the first period, it managed just nine shots in periods one and two and trailed 4-1 heading into the final frame. In what was a very low-event game, the Devils shut it down in the third, holding the Leafs to just seven shots (and getting just five themselves) to come away with a convincing 5-1 win.