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The Maple Leafs pull off a playoff miracle: An explainer for fans as confused as I am

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On Monday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs were part of an epic postseason collapse. A desperate team, already trailing the series, held a three-goal lead midway through the third and was cruising to victory when it all fell apart in utterly stunning fashion. Bad breaks, shaky goaltending, and dumb penalties all combined to open the door, and the result was one of the most heartbreaking losses in recent memory.

So far, no surprises. But here’s the twist: The Leafs won.

I know. I am also completely confused.

I’ve checked and double-checked the box score. I’ve run the numbers, and it keeps coming back with 5 being more than 4. I’m not completely sure that the NHL isn’t still reviewing the overtime goal and about to announce that Alex Kerfoot’s stick was high, but so far so good.

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It’s the playoffs, everything is on the line, and the Toronto Maple Leafs… did good?

OK, they weren’t good all game, just like they weren’t in Game 3, but who cares. It’s the playoffs, there are no moral victories. No more style points, as a wise man once said. A win is a win, and this was a win for the ages.

But also, this makes absolutely no sense. And since part of my job is to dig for answers, I’m doing tonight’s reaction column in FAQ style. Let’s see if we can work through this together.


Q: Dude, what the hell was that?

A: I have no idea.

Q: Like… what?

A: WHAT?

Q: (question marks shooting out of head)

A: (exaggerated shrug emoji)

Editor: This isn’t even remotely useful.

A: Give me a break, I have zero recent experience with this sort of thing.

Q: OK, what actually happened?

A: For the half-dozen of you who haven’t already had all the details forced into your head whether you like it or not, here’s a quick summary. The Lightning outplayed the Leafs badly in the first, earning a 2-0 lead. Toronto looked better in the second, but by the time it was over Tampa was up 4-1. That felt like game over, and some of us may or may not have already written most of our “same old Leafs” columns by midway through the third. But Auston Matthews scored twice to give us a game, Morgan Rielly tied it with under four minutes to go, and the Lightning looked shellshocked. The Leafs kept up the pressure in overtime, and William Nylander drew a penalty. That led to this:

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Q: Wait, they called an overtime penalty? Are people going to be mad about that?

A: Probably, because it’s the playoffs. But Mikhail Sergachev basically dove at Nylander’s feet and arm-swiped his legs out, and it took away a strong scoring chance. It was a penalty. Lightning fans can be mad about it if they want because that’s what fans do, but anyone else will be faking it.

Q: So the Leafs didn’t just pull off a major comeback, but… it was 4-1?

A: Yes it was, just like in 2013, as more than a few people have pointed out. Well, not just like 2013, because that collapse in Boston came in Game 7 and ended the series. This one isn’t over yet.

Q: Not technically, but… it’s over, right?

A: I mean this very sincerely and respectfully: Shut up.

Q: Come on, nobody comes back from a collapse like this. The Lightning gave the Leafs their two best punches, lost twice in overtime, and now they look exhausted and defeated. The Leafs have this wrapped up.

A: As Wendel as my witness, I will end you.

Q: Plan the parade?

A: OK, let’s just be clear on this. Leafs fans are thrilled right now. They just witnessed one of the greatest comebacks in franchise history, and it was one that flipped all the tired (but accurate) narratives on their head. None of us will sleep for days. What we just watched was amazing, and we’ll tell our grandkids about it someday.

BUT! Not one single Maple Leafs fan thinks this series is over. Literally not one. They might be starting to think that the Leafs have turned a corner, or that things are finally different. They know that the odds when you’re up 3-1 are way better than 2-2 or worse. But every one of us also knows that it takes four wins to end a series, and three is not four, and there are lots of ways this could go wrong. If you meet a Leafs fan who can’t imagine this team still blowing it, be very gentle with them because they are a newborn baby.

Q: Are you Leafs fans always this depressing?

A: Sure are!

Q: So what happens now?

A: There’s an extra day before Game 5, and in theory that maybe hurts the Leafs because they have momentum and the Lightning looked tired as Game 4 went on. But it’s probably for the best as far as the fan base, since it gives everyone a day to just freak out and watch Steve Dangle clips on repeat before settling down and getting back into game mode.

Of course, it also means an extra day for everyone to dig up the old stories and stats. I’ll save you the trouble on the big one: In the Matthews era, the Maple Leafs are 0-for-9 in games where a win would end a series. Two of those losses came last year to Tampa; three of them have been in overtime, literally one goal away. Now they’ll either make it an even dozen, or finally get the win that gets them out of the first round.

Thursday night in Toronto will be something else. It’s going to be loud. It might only be loud for however long it takes for the Lightning to score and make it 1-0, but we’ll cross that bridge when we get there.

Q: Don’t you mean “if” we get there?

A: Yeah, sorry. Like I said, I kind of forgot how all this stuff works.

Q: Before we wrap up, do you want to take off the fanboy hat and take any kind of stab at actual objective analysis?

A: Not really, thanks.

Editor: Do it anyway.

A: Fine.

The Leafs got their butts kicked on home ice in Game 1 because they didn’t show up on time, and that could happen again on Thursday. They were outplayed for almost all of Game 3 and at least the first half of Game 4, and probably didn’t deserve to come out of Tampa with both wins. Even Game 2, their one unequivocally good game, came without Victor Hedman playing. The Lightning are proud champions, they’re very good, their key players have another level to get to, and we’re all expecting their best game on Thursday.

And let’s not forget, the Leafs’ big problem over the years has been their almost obsessive need to pat themselves on the back and ease off the gas pedal whenever anything even vaguely good happens, including when they pulled off an equally wild comeback against the Blue Jackets. Now they’re going to hear about how great they are for two days. This isn’t over.

Q: Any last words?

A: Have I mentioned how it isn’t over?

Q: You have.

A: In that case: WHOOOOOOOOOO!

(Photo: Mike Ehrmann / Getty Images)

 

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Maple Leafs move forward with Treliving as Dubas lands with Penguins – NHL.com

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TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs had a plan in place. With their fan base in panic mode after Kyle Dubas was not brought back as GM last month, the Maple Leafs introduced Brad Treliving on Thursday as the GM who would lead the franchise forward. 

This press conference was going to be about the future, about what the experienced Treliving, 53, could do for Toronto, not about Dubas, who 13 days earlier had been told his services would no longer be required after a five-year stint as a Maple Leafs GM.

And for an hour or so on Thursday, it was. Until it wasn’t.

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At 11:31 ET, some 29 minutes before Treliving and team president Brendan Shanahan were scheduled to address the media at Scotiabank Arena, the Pittsburgh Penguins issued a release announcing Dubas as president of hockey operations. Yep. That same Dubas. The release noted that Dubas and members of the Fenway Sports Group would hold their own press conference in Pittsburgh at 1 p.m., one hour after Treliving’s meeting with the media.

Was it just a coincidence that all this took place on the same day? Was this a chance for Dubas and the Penguins to upstage his former team?

Shanahan quickly rejected that notion, trying to calm the conspiracy theorists who thought something fishy was going on regarding the scheduling.

“I don’t think it was intentional timing,” he said. “They need to get to work as well.

“I fully endorse Kyle.”

Maybe Shanahan doesn’t believe the timing was intentional. But it certainly was intriguing. And it was almost as if the day progressed as dictated from the pages of a movie script.

Indeed, the Maple Leafs and Penguins will be connected by the common thread that is Dubas.

It certainly makes for a fascinating tale of two franchises.

Dubas, 37, is one of the sharpest young hockey minds in the game. The Maple Leafs, under his watch, went 221-109-42 in the regular season but won one Stanley Cup Playoff series in that span despite featuring uber-talented players like forwards Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares, and defenseman Morgan Rielly. 

Video: Penguins name Dubas president of hockey operations

Dubas was in the final season of his contract in 2022-23. It was the Maple Leafs’ decision not to give him a new contract last offseason. 

According to Shanahan, the decision had been made to bring back Dubas, even after the Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Second Round on May 12. A contract offer had been presented to Dubas prior to the Maple Leafs locker cleanout day three days later, he said. But when Dubas addressed the media that day, he lamented how difficult the season had been on his family and how he had to discuss with his loved ones whether he needed time to recalibrate.

Dubas said that regardless of what decision he’d make regarding a return to the Maple Leafs, “You won’t see me next week pop up elsewhere. I can’t put [my family] through that after this year.” 

He was right. He didn’t pop up the next week; it was actually closer to two weeks that he surfaced in Pittsburgh.

To be fair, he said it was his wife, Shannon, who prodded him to explore the Penguins situation. It was, in the end, a partial family decision.

At the same time, in his new role he gets the power he coveted in Toronto. With Shanahan in place, that was never going to happen with the Maple Leafs. And when Shanahan received a counteroffer from Dubas’ agent with a revised financial package, which is a synonym for “more money,” Shanahan cut the cord.

You can’t make this up. It truly is the stuff of soap operas.

And where it goes from here is can’t-miss TV.

Both teams are star-studded. That’s where the similarities end.

Treliving didn’t come out and say it, but he seemed to hint that the so-called “Core Four” of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Tavares could stay intact. Though skill has a lot to do with that, so does age. Matthews is 25, Marner 26, Nylander 27. You could say their best years could be ahead of them.

The same can’t be said for the core Dubas inherits. Forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and defenseman Kris Letang will each be at least 36 when next season starts. At the same time, the championship pedigree of the three future Hall of Famers who have helped the Penguins win three Stanley Cup championships can’t be questioned.

Treliving is somewhat shackled under the NHL salary cap because the Core Four gobble up more than $40 million of the space under it. Dubas has far more flexibility; indeed, he mentioned the Penguins will have around $20 million of cap space to play with.

Then there are the coaching situations. Pittsburgh’s Mike Sullivan was the coach of the Penguins’ 2016 and 2017 Cup title teams and can coach “forever,” according to Dubas. There is more uncertainty for Treliving, who said he’ll meet with Maple Leafs incumbent Sheldon Keefe and try to learn more about him before determining his future. Keefe, by the way, also coached under Dubas in two other leagues: the Ontario Hockey League with Sault St. Marie and the American Hockey League with the Toronto Marlies.

So many plots. So many storylines.

All that remains to set the stage for this juicy narrative is for the 2023-24 schedule to be released in the next couple of months. Because any games between Treliving’s Maple Leafs and Dubas’ Penguins need to be circled on the calendar for obvious reasons, no matter how both men might try to downplay them.

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