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Photo Credit: John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Postgame: x-

For the first time in four years, and for the first time in 13 years in an 82 game season, the Toronto Maple Leafs are going to the playoffs. In the first full season for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander, a team few expected to be good are headed to the Stanley Cup playoffs. How beautiful does that sound?

With a victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins, the kids and a few veterans managed to not mess it up and found their way into the postseason with a 5-3 victory tonight.

It wasn’t easy, it wasn’t ugly, and Frederik Andersen very well may be injured, but by jove, they made the playoffs and that’s pretty cool.

Toronto sports going WAY up.

The Rundown

Phil Kessel almost contributed to the world’s darkest timeline when he got the scoring started in this one.  There was an uneasy feeling throughout the entire arena that this team would find a way to muck things up and how fitting would it be if the team’s former hero turned into the force that pushes them out of the playoffs?

It was among the last shots that Frederik Andersen would face, as he left the game after being rammed into by Tom Sestito. No word yet on the extent of his injury, but Curtis McElhinney came into play the remainder of the game.

James Van Riemsdyk would get things going for the Buds with this beautiful effort:

And in fitting fashion, the third member of the Leafs’ former first line scored this goal to put the Leafs up 2-1.

The lead was short lived, however. Sidney Crosby was able to strike on the power play, while an ugly deflection off Jake Gardiner’s skate popped through McElhinney’s legs and gave the Penguins a surprising 3-2 lead.

It was turning into one of “those games”. Typical Leafs. They’re going to blow it, aren’t they?

Just kidding.

With just over 5 minutes left in the third period, Kasperi Kapanen earned his first career point to tie the game on a nice little tap-in.

Then with just under 3 minutes to go, Connor Brown pushed the Leafs over the edge with this pretty deflection:

Auston Matthews added an empty-netter for his 40th of the season, fittingly with 3.4 seconds left in the game.

Curtains.

Say it loud, say it proud: The Toronto Maple Leafs will be heading to the playoffs.

The Stats

Blue Warrior

Though he tailed off a little, James van Riemsdyk was an absolute monster in the game’s opening period and takes home the award tonight. Stick tap to McElhinney for a flurry of great saves.

Up next

The Leafs can finish third in the division with a victory tomorrow over the Columbus Blue Jackets.

This, forever:

  • Gary Empey

    I game to remember. To make the playoffs tonight all the Leafs had to do is knock off last years Stanley Cup Champions. I thought every Leaf was putting their best effort to get it done. I think we got a goal from each of the 4 lines plus one on the powerplay. Cheers, to all the great Leaf fans on this site.

  • Harte of a Lion

    The highlight of the night for me has to be Connor Brown jumping in the air with glee on his face after deflecting Gardiner’s shot for the go ahead goal. This is a kid who has cheered for this team from the day he was born. His father Dan might not have even known that he and Anne had recently conceived the great young winger when Gilmour ended game 1 of the 1993 conference final with that wonderful double overtime wrap around against Curtis Joseph and the Blues.
    He was 6 and 7 years old the last time the Mats Sundin led Leafs made any noise in the playoffs and from there onward, the team he loved and cheered for drifted towards piss poor play for years to come.
    He admitted he felt crushed as we all did, during the 3rd period meltdown against Boston during the 2013 playoffs. He wept with us Leafs Fans while being a driving force for the Erie Otters turnaround, as their captain and mentor to a 15 year old “generational talent”.
    We could all see the veterans the past few games. And the rookies seemed to be taking a cue from them.
    Squeezing sawdust from their sticks.
    Forcing plays that weren’t there.
    Playing “scared”.
    Afraid to make a mistake.
    Deer in the headlights?
    When that 3-2 Pittsburgh goal went in off Gardiner’s skate, I wondered how much controversy the team could absorb.
    Was this the dagger that ended this seasons magnificence?
    A 3 game losing streak during the most important stretch of this season?
    Sudden playoff uncertainty?
    You could feel it in the stands and I’m certain in every bar and family room tuned to Hockey Night in Canada.
    A balloon went “pop”
    A tire went flat, or was that the entire Leafs Nation exhaling at once while many jumped off the bandwagon again?
    This team isn’t your father’s Maple Leafs!
    First it was that kid we got in the Kessel trade, what’s his name again? Who Craig ‘TSN PROVOCATEUR’ Button recently called ‘an AHL point per game nothing who might develop into a borderline NHL player’ tying the game off a beautiful play started by Zaitsev, to Matthews, to Hunwick.
    B E A UTIFUL!
    Then the other, other, other, other, other rookie scored.
    He wasn’t just celebrating the winning goal, he was celebrating what we all felt, His sheer jubilation that the team he cheered for, long before they drafted him, was going to the playoffs.
    His leap in the air was proof…
    “These aren’t your fathers Maple Leafs” these are your Great Great Grandfather’s Maple Leafs.

    Go Leafs

  • FlareKnight

    Good job team.

    They needed to play hungry and they did it. Put themselves in a position where all they needed was a win and they grabbed it here. Not easy, super stressful, but we got it.

    Good job Leafs. Everyone stepped up and it’s just surreal that we’re going to see Leaf playoff hockey again.

  • LeafyLoafer

    holy moly, what a game…and what a great accomplishment for this leafs team. no matter what happens in these playoffs, it will be great experience for them. i haven’t felt such optimism as a leafs fan in forever. these guys are exciting as hell to watch. go leafs go!

  • lukewarmwater

    A big large X by the name TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS. Pure pandemonium at my favourite leaf watering hole out here in God’s country. How fittingly perfect that a young Finn who scored the game winner for his country to win the junior gold scored the tying goal tonight and was the major player obtained in the Phil the floater Kessel deal. Congratulations Mr. young Kapanen on your first N.H.L. glorious goal, many more obviously to come. Harte is the blue warrior tonight with a so eloquent posting tonight describing a young 6th round pick scoring the winner, his 20th of the year , Mr. Connor Brown who as Harte so eloquently pointed out has been a leaf fan from birth.
    Then Moses sinks the fifth goal into the yawning empty net, his 40th of the year and leaf fans GO CRAZY, which kind of scares the bartender when they realise you are 68.
    True stories tonight I left my home and a guy almost ran me over he stopped his car and saw my beautiful Austen Matthews sweater and apologised and explained he was a huge leaf fan. Well I thanked him . Of course I was amongst a throng of leaf fans in the Regal Begal bar but later I visited another watering hole and 6 people came up to me and shook my hand and wished the Maple Leafs all the success in the playoffs. It truly was a cool feeling in a Vancouver Canuck town.
    The major downer was another thug going after our leaf goalie. Heh Pittsburgh management, CLOWNS, you just put a bulls eye on poor Syd the Kid. What an utterly stupid move by your goon pick up as for the third time in the last five games, Andersen gets drilled while THE UTTERLY LITTLE MAN BETTMAN DOES SWEET BLEEP ALL ABOUT. Heh other N.H.L. teams you want a freaking war on your goalie, you freaking got it. Don’t think the out of control Torts for Columbus won’t have his tough boys going trophy hunting pesky Pittsburgh Penguin management. Just a gutless move on the part of your resident goon.
    Curtis superb in relief, unlike Jay relievers as he makes the big save off Crosby.
    At the beginning of the season I thought at best this club would be 500 and would play a more entertaining style. But similar to 99% of the prognosticators I was wrong as to how fast the kids would learn the N.H.L. game under Babcock.
    Now the leafs need just one point in the final game against a Columbus squad that has been slumping and will likely rest some of their best players including their starting goalie. So if the leafs get to O.T. they grab the third spot and play all home games as most of the Ottawa barn will be filled with leaf fans.
    Now a scene I would love to see if I was the leaf owner would be this. Bettman could fine me millions but once the leafs were in a tie and o.t. was the next step, Babcock would be instructed to simply tell the Refs that he didn’t want his second goalie to be run over in o.t. or to suffer a strain in a shoot out so the leafs would simply give Torts the puck for one of his players could shoot at an empty net. Bingo the Blue Jackets gain two points , the leafs one which propels the leafs over the Bruins and the bleeping, bleeping Bettman who won’t grow a pair to protect N.H.L. goalies has egg all over his ugly face.
    Young leaf fans this one was truly for you. GO LEAFS GO.

  • DukesRocks

    “Happy Days are here again” I don’t mind admitting during that 3rd period, I had negative thoughts of ghost past running through my head. What else could go wrong? We lost are #1 goalie due to an idiotic careless play in front of our net. Bad luck deflection of Gardner’s skate. Losing 3-2 with less than 10 mins. The pressure is on and I kept thinking at least we have one more game to nail it down. How would this collapse compare with being eliminated by Boston a few years ago? We kept losing this week and our margin for error increased from 1 to 2 points thanks to NYI winning 5 in a row.

    Along with Leaf fans, the pressure the boys in blue were feeling was enormous, to say the least. You could see all week, unforced errors, missing open nets, weak goals given up by both our goalies. All this building up to Kappy’s goal to tie the game. I gave it a Yes but controlled my enthusiasm knowing we need 2 points. And then the release of emotion on Brown’s goal, I felt I ran a marathon around my apartment and was totally emotionally exhausted. I kept thinking come on boys lets hold this and the feeling of ahhhhhhh on Mathew’s empty net goal.

    Moving forward everything is gravy. Going deep or being eliminated in the first round of the playoff will not compare to the emotional roller coaster I just felt this week (unless we get to the cup finals lol). Yeah, I hope we play Ottawa instead of Washington but most off all I’m just glad we’re here. I feel we’re playing with house money now, the weight of disappointment has dispelled and if we as fans feel the same way, it should transfer to the players. There’s nothing more dangerous than a team with nothing to lose and hopefully, that can take us deep into the playoffs.

    Go Leafs Go

  • lukewarmwater

    I watched one of the 3 minute wrap ups of the game and there was this moment that truly reflects my feelings as a plus 60 year leaf fan seeing an older fan after the game go and embrace two young leaf fans who he knew had never seen a leaf Stanley cup like he had obviously on a number of occasions. How I wish that these young exuberant leaf players and the equally young and passionate leaf fans share the joy I had when I was their age to watch my leafs win 4 Stanley cups. God Bless the leafs and their fans.

    • DukesRocks

      I’m an old fart in my 50’s and still haven’t seen my favourite team in all sports win the cup. I’m not sure what my reaction will be when that day arrives but I’m sure tear of joy will be part of it.

    • getrdone

      Well, I can remember the last Leaf Stanley Cup, but more by reputation that by recall. I thought for some time that the next time the Leafs would be meaningful would be after I had lost the ability to remember. Now at 75 trips around the sun I can say this is great!! As a fan I am truly happy and excited to be at the dance, but I do have to remember that this is sport and I have a friend who does not know anymore which way is up and that is life and it can be rough.

  • Glen

    Way to go Leafs. A couple of ex ahlers scored the key goals. Up yours Button! Nice to shut up the so called experts like Dreger who actually said last summer that there was a chance the Leafs would be worse this year and they would not make the playoffs. Just to get to the playoffs is a huge accomplishment. The rest is all a bonus. Hope Anderson injury is not serious. GLG

  • Harte of a Lion

    Just watched Babcock’s interview from this morning (April 9) and it’s great to see him smile and joke with the reporters. Does anyone recall him saying on November 15th that Matthews will be a dominant centre by Christmas? This man is an incredible coach and worth every penny.
    Thank you Brendan Shanahan for your vision and the determination to see it through to date. The future looks promising.