The Wraparound: Maple Leafs look to advance for first time since 2004 playoffs

The Wraparound is your daily look at the 2021 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs. We’ll break down the NHL playoff games today with the all-important television and live streaming information included.

• The Maple Leafs look to eliminate the Canadiens and advance to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since the 2004 playoffs. 

• The Predators need another big game from Juuse Saros to force a Game 7 against the Hurricanes.

• Want to catch up on Wednesday night’s action in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs? Read the NHL Playoff Buzzer.

April 20, 2004. That was the date when the Maple Leafs last won a Stanley Cup playoff game to advance to the Second Round.

In the 15 seasons that have been played since then, the Maple Leafs have tormented their fanbase with rebuilds, bad seasons, bad teams, and embarrassing postseason flameouts. They have lost three Game 7s in that time period (all to the same Boston Bruins team), including a series where they had a 3-2 lead and another where they had a 4-1 lead in the third period. As if all of that was not bad enough, they did not even make it to the First Round a year ago by losing in the qualifying round of the bubble in five games to the Blue Jackets.

On Thursday night they can end a lot of that postseason misery in Game 5 (7 p.m. ET, NBCSN) of their series with the Canadiens when this highly skilled, highly paid core has a chance to break through to the Second Round.

[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 First Round schedule, TV info]

From the very beginning this season seemed like it was set up for the Maple Leafs to finally find postseason success.

The temporary divisional format put them into a group where they were clearly the best team in the division, where they should be favorites in any of their first two potential matchups. Along with that, they manage to avoid teams like Boston or Tampa Bay until at least the semifinals. There is no excuse for this team, with this roster, in this division to not make something happen in the playoffs. If it does not happen this year, you would have had to ask yourself when it would ever happen.

Well, you may not have to ask that question much longer because they are in complete control of this series with the Canadiens owning a 3-1 lead, even as they continue to play without captain John Tavares and getting only one goal from Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.

Jack Campbell has been one of the biggest surprise stories in the league in the second half, winning 20 of his first 26 starts this season (including three of four in the playoffs) with a .928 save percentage.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

William Nylander has been great, entering Thursday with four goals and an assist in the first four games.

The depth forwards have also come through, as Alexander Kerfoot, Jason Spezza, Alex Galchenyuk, and Joe Thornton have all made a positive impact.

Those are the kinds of contributions the Maple Leafs are going to need if they are going to get close to ending their Stanley Cup drought that goes all the way back to 1967 and the Original Six days. But before they can end that drought, they have to actually win at least one playoff series.

They can take that step on Thursday.

THURSDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 5: Canadiens at Maple Leafs (TOR leads 3-1), 7 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)
Game 6: Hurricanes at Predators (CAR leads 3-2), 9:30 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)

FRIDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 7: Wild at Golden Knights (Tied 3-3), 9 p.m. ET – NBCSN (livestream)

PHT’s 2021 Stanley Cup previews
• Maple Leafs vs. Canadiens
• Hurricanes vs. Predators
Golden Knights vs. Wild

• Stanley Cup playoff predictions
• Why your team can (and can not) win the Stanley Cup this season
• NHL odds: Division winners, 2021 Stanley Cup champion
 Which NHL playoff series has biggest upset potential?

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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