It was déjà vu all over again for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
For a second consecutive season — and the third time in the team’s past four playoff appearances — the Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of an opening-round series.
“I thought our series this year compared to last year, we were a way better hockey club,” head coach Mike Babcock told reporters at TD Garden after Tuesday’s 5-1 loss that featured a pair of empty-netters. “In the end, we weren’t rewarded. I’m proud of the guys, I thought we worked. I think we’re really taking steps and going in the right direction, but we’ve got to push through and get through this.”
There will be plenty to dissect from this game and series both from an Xs and Os standpoint and from the big-picture perspective. Maple Leafs management will likely go about things patiently, while the knee-jerk reactions can be left to fans and pundits — which is exactly what we saw from the passionate Toronto fan base online after the game.
Jake Gardiner, who played injured, was criticized for another Game 7 outing that left much to be desired, Frederik Andersen let in a soft one early in the first period and fell to 0-4 in Game 7s, while Nazem Kadri’s absence due to his suspension continued to have a negative impact on the Leafs’ forward lines.
Special teams performance and the ice-time given to certain players were an issue again and this led to many onlookers taking aim at Babcock.
“We just keep grinding away, making things happen for ourselves,” Babcock, whose playoff record is 32-42 over the past 10 seasons, said of inevitable off-season roster changes. “When you look at our group, we’ll, as a management team, we’ll look at our group and see what we can do to get better.”
Babcock joined the Maple Leafs ahead of the 2015-16 season and after a rough first season the team has qualified for the playoffs in three consecutive years — something the team hadn’t done since before the 2004 lockout.
Three consecutive first-round exits in a market like Toronto, though? That gets you reaction like this:
Mike Babcock after 3 straight first round exits: pic.twitter.com/yO8oGSzNd8
— francesco varano (@varano_f) April 24, 2019