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The Toronto Maple Leafs need to gaslight themselves in game 5

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Filipe Dimas
9 months ago
Ahead in the series by three games to one, the Toronto Maple Leafs need to win only one of the next three games to defeat the Tampa Bay Lightning and advance to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2004. However, if Toronto wants to show that they’ve abandoned their old ways, the team needs to gaslight themselves going into this fifth game as if it were a do or die game seven where the loser goes home.
Before someone can comment on it, yes, Toronto has famously lost every game seven they’ve played in the salary cap era, so saying to treat this game like one may seem like dooming the team to yet another heartbreaking loss. Though the Maple Leafs’ biggest problem in that time frame has not been losing those seventh games, it’s been thinking the job is done and letting their foot off the gas.
Before Monday’s victory, the modern Leafs had only a single win in the playoffs while leading in the series, that win coming against the Montreal Canadiens, who would then go on to win three straight as Toronto thought the job was done and had already begun looking towards the second round. Every Leafs fan who watched the way Toronto played that fifth game against Montreal felt the exact same dread, seeing their team wasn’t playing with the kind of urgency necessary for playoff success.
Even looking back to 2019, one factor of the infamous David Ayres game that goes unmentioned is how the Maple Leafs scored two quick goals on the Emergency Goalie, before seeming to take their foot of the gas, assuming they’d be able to score at will on him. By the time Carolina fought back and Toronto realised they’d actually have to work for their goals, it was too late.
The power of momentum is a real thing, and it could be argued that the momentum provided by Toronto’s collapse is partially responsible for Montreal’s journey to the finals that year. With Tampa Bay currently backed into the corner, the Leafs can’t afford to let them back into the fight. A game six would mean going back to a raucous Tampa home crowd, who would make Toronto’s job far more difficult. If that ends in a loss as well, then the series shifts back to Scotiabank Arena where not only will Tampa Bay have all the momentum on their side, but the fear of once again collapsing in the playoffs will be struck into the hearts of every Maple Leafs player, coach, executive and fan.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have been to the cup finals three years in a row, winning it twice. They know how to use momentum to their advantage, how to battle back, and most importantly, how to handle pressure. This Toronto Maple Leafs core have yet to showcase that they can handle pressure, and rise to the occasion when it matters most. So far in these playoffs, it seems like things may be different. The star players are shining and the goaltender has been making the big saves when needed. The Maple Leafs have also shown up in overtime, taking their chances in a due or die situation to steal a win when in years past, they were the ones giving up those heartbreaking game ending goals.
Toronto has three chances to win this series left, but Thursday’s game five will likely be their best chance. Tampa Bay’s task going forward looks daunting, and with each win they collect, it becomes easier for them to rise to the occasion. If these Toronto Maple Leafs are different than the choke artists they’ve been labeled, they’ll need to prove that not only are they capable of avoiding a collapse, but they won’t even let it be an option.
Game five on Thursday night isn’t a do or die game, but part of Sheldon Keefe’s job will be convincing every member of the roster that it is. If Toronto can come out strong, score an early goal and put the pressure on Tampa Bay for 60 minutes to secure the win, then the rest of the league will be quick to take notice.

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