It was never going to be this easy. It was always going seven.
And it was always going to be heartbreaking as the Tampa Bay Lightning found a way (though legitimately or not- don’t worry, we’ll get to that,) to stave off elimination and force yet another Game 7 for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Much like Game 5, the game truly began with the Lightning getting the game to 2-0, the Leafs erasing the defecit, pulling ahead, then the Lightning tying the game. Unlike Game 5, there was no moment of heroic triumph that saw the Leafs move forward into the 2nd round for the first time since 2004.
And let’s be perfectly frank and honest here, the Leafs were robbed of the victory by the officials.
Yes, it’s a cliche of the stereotypical ‘salty fan’ to blame the referees, but objectively, all emotion detached, raw facts only: the Leafs were robbed. Lets look at it in more detail.
There you have it, plain as day, Foote sold a phantom high stick and the official bit on it like a fish on a baited hook. The level of complete incompetence from the officials in this league is disgusting to say the absolute least. And Foote is an absolute coward for stooping to such a low. This is 100% worse than any of those Tim Stutzle dives that Hockey Twitter loves to dunk on.
The Kampf phantom call is ultimately the “penalty” that permitted Tampa to get back in the game and force overtime, but the reason the Lightning players had that much time and space was because of another weak penalty call in which Hedman was clipped by the follow-through of a stick that he himself forced up.
With the legitimacy of this loss now firmly in doubt, let’s look at how we got here. Tampa opened the scoring off of perhaps the worst misplay of Alex Kerfoot’s career late in the 1st period.
In the second period, the Leafs got their only power play of the game and Tampa was able to extend their lead with a short-handed goal.
Less than a minute later however, the Leafs got onto the scoresheet courtesy of Auston Matthews’ fourth of the postseason, a perfect deflection of a Mark Giordano shot.
In the final minute of the second period, the captain put a stamp on the series, or at least, that’s the way we should be looking at John Tavares’ notching two goals 26 seconds apart, but alas, incompetent officiating put a bow on that potential storyline.
We already covering the sickening events of the third period which brought the series to it’s first overtime period. It was a back and forth affair that ended with a bit of a defensive breakdown and a Game 7 meeting on Saturday night.
I don’t have a particularly deep stat breakdown to point to as empirical evidence that the Leafs are destined to win Game 7, or should have won tonight. What I do have is a basic understanding of time and the NHL rulebook as it is printed.
This. Is. Appalling. Egregious even. There’s at least five seconds here where Matthews is being blatantly held by Alex Killorn during a shift in overtime. The lack of a call here, along with the phantom call in the third period, above any other factor, decided this game. End of story.
And so here we are again. One game decides it all, when it should already be over. Saturday night, 7pm. Win and this game with zero brain-cell officiating doesn’t matter. Lose and it’s another long summer ahead of dashed hopes, toxic pessimism, and broken hearts. At this moment, however, the hope is still alive, there’s still sixty minutes (or more) to go before the curtains fall on this series. Now is the time to overcome the downfalls of the past, slay the dragons that haunt them, put the demons to bed, and move on to uncharted territory for this iteration of this Maple Leafs team.
They can and they will.