The Toronto Maple Leafs have gone 0-for-8 in clinching games since 2004.
The latest, and perhaps the most painful, chapter was Monday night. Heavily favored to be the team to climb out of the North Division, the Maple Leafs blew a 3-1 series lead and dropped Game 7 on home ice, 3-1 to the rival Montreal Canadiens.
Canadiens goalie Carey Price nearly earned a shutout, stifling any attempt of a Leafs comeback bid in the third period, until William Nylander scored moments after Tyler Toffoli‘s empty net goal with 1:36 to go.
It was far too late.
It was the first time since 1979 the Canadian squads had faced each other in the postseason. The series literally decades in the making had justifiable hype, but not many believed the Canadiens — the 16th ranked team of the 16 to make the postseason, a team with just a plus-1 goal differential — would compete with, not to mention beat, the Leafs.
Price stole the show on Monday, but series pest Corey Perry delivered the dagger at the end of the second period to make it 2-0. Even with a 1-0 score after Brendan Gallagher put the Habs ahead earlier in the frame, it seemed insurmountable with the way Price was playing.
The Canadiens goalie finished with 31 saves. The Leafs outshot the Canadiens 32-30, and led in plenty of other categories as well. They dominated in third period shots, with their season on the line.
It wasn’t enough. Instead, the Maple Leafs, for the second time in a decade, will go home after blowing a 3-1 series lead. Maybe it’s not as bad as the loss to the Bruins in 2013, when the Leafs held a 4-1 lead with 10 minutes left in the third period and fell in overtime.
[NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs 2021 Second Round schedule, TV info]
Given how heavy a favorite the Leafs were to not only get out of the division, but compete for a Stanley Cup, this has to rank up there in all-time horrible postseason defeats. Toronto took a 3-1 series lead before Game 5 at home, where they were down 3-0, stormed back, and then lost within a minute of overtime from surrendering a 2-on-0.
Game 6 in Montreal also went to overtime, but that time it took 15:15 for Jesperi Kotkaniemi to win it and force Game 7.
It felt like the Leafs’ last chance came with 11:20 to go in the third, when Shea Weber took an interference penalty and they challenged the Canadiens, but Price made every stop.
Home ice isn’t the same in 2021 in Canada, with limited fans. Montreal allowed spectators for the first time for Game 6 with just over 2,500, and Toronto allowed in 550 fully-vaccinated healthcare workers for Game 7. Still, it’s impossible to express how much pressure was on Toronto to win this series. It’s possibly the most expectations placed on the franchise in recent memory.
Rocket Richard winner and Hart Trophy candidate Auston Matthews finished with just two shots. Mitch Marner finished with two. Toronto had been missing John Tavares since his injury in Game 1 (and Jake Muzzin), but the offense hadn’t struggled terribly throughout the series, not the way it did on Monday night.
The Maple Leafs haven’t won a playoff series since 2004. It’ll be at least another year before they have the chance to try at it again. Until then, their lore as First Round losers is extended for another chapter.
JETS VS. CANADIENS
Game 1: Wed. June 2: Canadiens at Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 2: Fri. June 4: Canadiens at Jets, 7:30 p.m. ET (USA Network)
Game 3: Sun. June 6: Jets at Canadiens, 6 p.m. ET (NBCSN)
Game 4: Mon. June 7: Jets at Canadiens TBD
*Game 5: Wed. June 9: Canadiens at Jets TBD
*Game 6: Fri. June 11: Jets at Canadiens TBD
*Game 7: Sun. June 13: Canadiens at Jets TBD
Marisa Ingemi is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @Marisa_Ingemi.