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In Toronto vs Florida, both teams are playing with house money

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Photo credit:John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports
Filipe Dimas
1 year ago
The second round matchup between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers is unique in one specific way, neither team was expected to be here. Between Toronto’s first round curse that once again saw them matched up against the borderline-dynasty Lightning, and Florida facing off against the winningest regular season team of all time, this is a second round matchup that few people expected to even be possible.
As a result, we are treated with a series where both teams are able to play entirely stress free. Yes, the goal for everyone in the playoffs is to win the Stanley Cup, and that should be what both of these teams are striving for, not letting themselves be content with a single series win. However, it can’t be ignored that the biggest challenges either team is expected to face, may already be behind them – and they’re now free to play without any additional pressure.
Let’s not get it twisted, should Toronto lose in the second round, especially to the wildcard Panthers, it will be a disappointment. With the strength of this team, the goal should absolutely be cup or bust every single season. That being said, the fact that this is already the most successful season in nearly two decades for the franchise, means that anything past this point is simply adding to the success story. 
There were times during previous years where the Maple Leafs looked like they were playing scared, and it was clear that the fear of once again continuing their reputation of being first round fodder was on the mind. With that behind them, there’s a realistic chance that we see the Maple Leafs play their remaining playoff games with a new energy and confidence. A confirmed knowledge that yes, they do deserve to be here because they’ve proven they can win when it matters most – best of all, they did it against the dominant Tampa Bay Lightning.
For Florida, it’s a different kind of house money. After barely sneaking into the playoffs as the bottom seed, qualifying on the last possible day, Florida did what no one expected and defeated the seemingly unbeatable Boston Bruins. After losing only seven home games all season, Florida handed Boston three more to complete the greatest upset in NHL history. Regardless of how far Florida advances, they’ll likely be considered the underdog in any series they play, giving them the edge of stress-free play, where no loss is considered a harrowing disappointment.
If Toronto wants to advance to the conference finals, they’ll need to learn from Boston’s mistakes and not take this Panthers team lightly. Florida was one of the league’s hottest teams following the trade deadline, and surged up the standings to grab that final playoff spot. Similarly, if Florida hopes to win, they’ll need to expect a Maple Leafs team that is playing with confidence and momentum for the first time in this core’s history. Letting Toronto go up early could be a death sentence, as the Maple Leafs have now shown everyone (including themselves) that they can close out a series.
If the Maple Leafs can use the momentum and confidence that comes with silencing the critics while simultaneously knocking out a juggernaut of an opponent, then there are few teams that can stand in their way. Unfortunately for Toronto, a surging franchise with nothing to lose riding the thrill of the greatest underdog success story of all time may be the perfect recipe for getting in their way.
In a series that looks like it’s setting up to be two unstoppable forces accelerating towards each other, there’s a real chance that a messy explosion awaits. While the numbers and sportsbooks say the Maple Leafs should be favourites here, the unpredictability of what both these teams are capable of with their biggest tests behind them means that it’s anyone’s guess how this series ends. When two teams are playing with house money, the only thing left to find out is who will be the first to push all their chips in and play for a win.

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