The Toronto Maple Leafs are in the postseason for the first time since 2004; and after a nine-year absence, they're reminding fans just how up and down the emotions of the playoffs can be.
After falling behind 3-1 in their series to the Boston Bruins, the Maple Leafs, specifically James Reimer, rose to the occasion and forced a Game 7 with two convincing wins. The crowds outside Maple Leaf Square have grown as the series has gone on; and with the series' final game in Boston, Monday night's will be the biggest yet.
Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli built this team to win a Stanley Cup, not struggle in the first round. But the Maple Leafs have scratched and clawed to give themselves a chance at the second round. There's no pressure on them. They're going on the road where Boston will have to figure out Reimer after scoring twice in the last two games.
From the Boston Globe:
“Everyone’s watching, the spotlight’s on,” [Joffrey] Lupul said. “Every play is obviously a high-pressure play. It’s not a time to go out there and play tight. It’s time to not be afraid of the big moment and, obviously, you want to stick to our team game, but as individuals, it’s a great time to step up.
“We’ve won two in a row. The pressure is mostly on them. I don’t think a lot of people expected this game to even be happening, especially when we were down, 3-1.”
Despite the sense of pressure on the Bruins, they're pretty used to these "do-or-die" situations. Including this year, six of their last seven playoff series have gone seven games. And if you want to go all the way back to the 2008 playoffs, it's eight of eleven.
The Maple Leafs had the benefit of flying into Boston Sunday night, while the Bruins dealt with plane issues and were stranded in Toronto overnight, flying in Monday morning.
The plane "malfunction" should have any Boston-based conspiracy theorists preparing in case of a Bruins loss, citing disruption of the player's pre-game routines. But as one team executive told the Boston Globe's Fluto Shinzawa, the altered pre-game schedule may not be such a bad thing for the Bruins.
"[Expletive] that. Routine didn't help last 2 games," they said.
Follow Sean Leahy on Twitter at @Sean_Leahy