The Toronto Maple Leafs made some significant strides last season, but to most, their shocking Game 7 collapse against the Boston Bruins ruins all the good memories. It brings up a tough question: can they bounce back after coughing up a late 4-1 lead in an elimination game?
A myriad of factors come into play, but on the bright side, they don’t need to look far for examples of teams who shook off crushing defeats (that some will call “choke jobs”).
The very team that stunned them on May 13 experienced similar pains. As you may remember, the Bruins gave up a 3-0 series and Game 7 lead against the Philadelphia Flyers in 2010, ultimately ceding that second-round series. A year later, the Bruins avenged that embarrassment by dismantling the Flyers on their way to a rousing Stanley Cup win.
The cliche that you have to lose before you truly learn how to win does seem to have some merit in both hockey and sports in general. Virtually every NHL champion suffered some postseason growing pains before winning it all – the Gretzky Oilers observing the dynastic Islanders recovering more than partying after a 1983 championship victory is almost a fable at this point – with the 2011 Bruins’ turnaround ranking as one of the best recent examples.
(As this Fox Sports article points out, teams like the Miami Heat, Boston Red Sox and New York Giants experienced both extremes of the spectrum on their ways to championships.)
It’s all heartening for the Leafs, although for every team that bounces back, there are plenty who simply fade away.
With all that in mind, the question of whether Toronto can really shake off that loss comes down to answers for more specific questions, especially: did they really get better this offseason?
(That being said, they might want to stay on the attack instead of going into prevent defense mode the next time they’re nursing a big playoff lead.)
Bryan Rust is really having himself a series.
After opening the scoring in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final, Rust took matters into his own hands after Jonathan Drouin evened the score for Tampa Bay, notching his second goal of the game — just 30 seconds after Drouin scored — to put Pittsburgh back out in front, 2-1.
Before digging into the Rust goal (posted above), let’s take a moment to appreciate Drouin’s snipe, one that whizzed by Pittsburgh netminder Matt Murray:
Now, back to Rust.
With that second goal he’s now racked up eight points for the playoffs, just three back of the 11 he put up over the course of the entire regular season. The former Notre Dame standout has become a major storyline, and now sits tied with Patric Hornqvist for the team lead in even-strength playoff goals.
Not bad for a guy that spent a fair chunk of the year in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, eh?
What an Eastern Conference Final for Bryan Rust.
Rust scored his second goal of the series — and third point in as many games — to open the scoring on Friday night, giving the Penguins a 1-0 lead over the Lighting at Consol.
After scoring just 11 points during the regular season, Rust — in just his second season at the NHL level — now has seven points in 16 playoff games, and has emerged as a vital bottom-six contributor in the process.
Chris Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin notched assists on Rust’s goal, which came early in the second period. The Pens out-shot the Bolts 8-5 in the first period, but were unable to get one past Andrei Vasilevskiy.
Oh, and speaking of Kunitz, he’s also produced extremely well in this series — he now has six points in his last five games.
As if Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Final couldn’t get any more dramatic, it has — Tampa Bay captain Steve Stamkos, who hasn’t played since Mar. 31, will make his playoff debut against the Penguins tonight.
Stamkos underwent vascular surgery in early April to correct a blood clotting issue, and has remained on blood thinners ever since. While there’s been no confirmation he’s off medication, he did tell Sportsnet he’d be able to return to the lineup once he was.
Stamkos reiterated that he’s still on the same prescription of blood thinners he was given earlier this month. He takes a 12-hour dosage, twice a day, and it has been suggested to him that once he is cleared to stop taking the medication, Stamkos conceivably could return to the Lightning lineup almost immediately.
That’s why I’m trying to stay in shape,” he said.
Per NHL.com, Stamkos took the warmup and participated in line rushes centering Ondrej Palat and Ryan Callahan.
It’s been exactly eight weeks since Stamkos played his last game. At the time of his diagnosis, the Lightning said his timetable for recovery was 1-3 months.
To say his return will be a boost is a major understatement. Aside from the emotional factor, Stamkos led the Bolts in goals this year, with 36, and would presumably spark a power play that’s gone just 2-for-12 in the series.
Steve Stamkos took the team bus to tonight’s Eastern Conference Game 7 in Pittsburgh. As TVA noted, it was the first time he’s arrived early for a game in these playoffs.
In his pregame presser, Bolts head coach Jon Cooper refused to answer any questions about Stamkos’ availability.
And then Stamkos took the warmup.
As such, the drama surrounding Tampa Bay’s captain has reached an all-time high. Stamkos, who’s been out of the lineup since early April due to blood clots, looks as though he’s on the verge of an emotional comeback as the Lightning try to win an ECF Game 7 — on the road — for a second consecutive season.
“If Stamkos is in the lineup, it’s our best foot forward,” Cooper said. “If he’s not in the lineup, it’s because he wasn’t eligible to play.”
No word if No. 91 is still on the blood thinning medication he’s been taking since undergoing vascular surgery on Apr. 4.