We have all seen this movie before. The Toronto Maple Leafs, with a chance to close out an opponent, failing to do so and having to play another winner-take-all Game 7. They were 10 minutes away on Thursday night from finally slaying their postseason demons, knocking out the back-to-back Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, and advancing to the Second Round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in 18 years.
Then everything started to unravel as only it can for the Maple Leafs. It eventually ended in overtime on a Brayden Point goal to lift the Lightning to a 4-3 win and forcing a Game 7 in Toronto on Saturday night.
As far as playoff frustration is concerned for the Maple Leafs this game had it all.
After erasing a two-goal deficit with three quick goals in the second period, the Maple Leafs entered the third period clinging to a one-goal lead. For a while it seemed like they had the game locked down. They were carrying the play, defending well, getting strong goaltending from Jack Campbell, and looked to be on their way to the Second Round to await either Boston or Carolina. Then with 11:58 to play David Kampf was sent off for high-sticking Cal Foote. Just 16 seconds later Alexander Kerfoot was sent off for a high-sticking penalty of his own, giving the Lightning an extended 5-on-3 advantage with their season on the line.
They did not waste it.
Nikita Kucherov fired a shot through a double screen to tie the game and send it overtime.
It was there where things really started to get Leafy.
After a dominant stretch of play by Toronto where it had multiple scoring chances against Andrei Vasilevskiy, Auston Matthews tripped over the red line, allowing Tampa Bay to regain possession, ending with Toronto accidentally knocking a loose puck into its own net for the game-winning goal.
With that, we head to Game 7 on Saturday.
All of the pressure in that game is going to rest with Toronto, not only because of all the baggage that core is carrying around with five consecutive First Round exits, but for the way they have lost many of those series. In two of them they had 3-2 series leads, including a 3-1 lead against Montreal a year ago, only to lose. They have now lost eight consecutive games in which they had a chance to close out a series, and in this one they were 10 minutes away from doing it.
If they lose another Game 7 — especially one at home, after this game — it will not be pretty in Toronto. Nobody will care about how many goals Auston Matthews scores, or how many points Mitch Marner has, or any other individual achievement or performance. They have to win.