The Wraparound: Maple Leafs have to win this game

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.

• It is Game 7 between Toronto and Montreal, and all of the pressure is on the Maple Leafs. 

• Also Monday, the Bruins look to take a 2-0 series lead on the Islanders. 

• Want to catch up on Sunday night’s playoff action? Check out the NHL Playoff Buzzer.

Whether it is the Stanley Cup Final or the First Round there is always an element of pressure that comes with a Game 7. You win, you advance. You lose, you go home. The stakes could not possibly be higher in a single hockey game. But some circumstances bring even more pressure than others, and that is the case for the Maple Leafs as they prepare to play the Canadiens in Game 7 (7 p.m. ET; CNBC) Monday night.

This is not a game where they would be happy to win, or a game they hope to win. It is not even necessarily a game Toronto should win. It is a game they have to win. Not only to avoid elimination and continue their pursuit of the franchise’s first Cup since 1967, but because this group in its current form can not possibly let this opportunity slip away. It can not collapse like this. Because if it does you have to expect that major, drastic changes will be coming this offseason. They would almost have to happen.

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

This is not a team that has a track record of recent success to fall back on or point to and say, “well, we have won before and sometimes you just don’t win.”

This is a team and a core group of players that five years into its window for contention has accomplished absolutely nothing. Three straight First Round exits followed by a qualifying round loss to the Blue Jackets in the bubble a year ago.

Now, after a great regular season in the North Division where they dominated the other six Canadian teams their entire season comes down to another winner-take-all game. It can not come out of this season with yet another one and done. Not with this roster, not in that division, not with this opportunity, not against that team, and certainly not after jumping out to a 3-1 series lead.

For a team that has made an art form out of frustrating its fan base and coming up small in big moments, losing this series would be their greatest masterpiece.

[NBC 2021 STANLEY CUP PLAYOFF HUB]

They finished the regular season 18 points ahead of the Canadiens. Management went all in on this season in an effort to give the roster everything it could possibly need to win. The divisional alignment set up perfectly for them and makes them a favorite in any potential First or Second round matchup. They would not have to worry about Tampa Bay, or Boston, or Carolina, or any other team contender until at least the Stanley Cup Semifinals. You should never put a championship-or-bust expectation on any team in any season, so it is not even about winning the Cup this season. But the time has come for this team to finally do something of significance.

With a win on Monday this core can rewrite the story that follows it around. It can give the Maple Leafs their first playoff series win in 17 years and give this roster something to build on, removing at least some of the “yeah, but…” that still exists around them.

If it loses this game and lets this series get away it will no doubt set off a chaotic offseason that could bring any number of changes from the front office, to the coaching staff, to the roster.

All of that is at stake in this game.

MONDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 7: Canadiens at Maple Leafs, 7:00 p.m. ET (Series tied 3-3) – CNBC (livestream)
Game 2: 
Islanders at Bruins, 7:30 p.m. ET (BOS leads 1-0) – NBCSN (livestream)

TUESDAY’S NHL PLAYOFF SCHEDULE

Game 2: Lightning at Hurricanes, 7:30 p.m. ET (TB leads 1-0) – NBCSN (livestream)

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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