Leafs should find validation in struggle with Lightning
There's no guarantees the result will be any different as the Leafs and Lightning head to a Game 7, but that doesn't mean that Toronto hasn't proven it's different.
JUSTIN CUTHBERT: The biggest difference now, though, as we move to a seventh game is the mental peace, right? Like, the Leafs seem despite the loss, despite the misfortune, despite everything hanging over the series and everything that has dogged them in the past, they seem exceedingly confident.
Keefe says it, but it doesn't seem hollow. Matthews says it. The other players say it. Morgan Riley steps up. And it feels like they do believe that they can do this. And I truly do believe that they understand that they are the better team and that they can win.
And that is so incredibly important because what might be secondary when sort of power ranking the challenges ahead and when assessing the task against a two-time Stanley Cup champion who is perfect in 17 straight games after a loss and doesn't lose when facing elimination, of course, and can win in so many different ways is the psychological piece.
It's only human nature to understand that this could slip away and that there could be consequences associated with that. And yet, even in this strange moment where they do deserve to win, they're in this position again. In reality, though, we are where we thought we would end up, right?
We'd still-- we thought if we went into this series that the most likely outcome was that it would go seven games. And still, I think it should be despite what we've seen tough to reconcile. At least it will be in the fan base because in Game Seven, it's the highest possible hurdle. It's the best team we've seen in the salary cap [? era, ?] plus the immediate and historical context, the demons, the potential consequences, the promises made and promises which don't potentially come through.
All of that is being thrown into a vat and stewed and tended to by the hockey gods. It's crazy. What's that thing in "Game of Thrones" that Cersei uses to blow up Dubrovnik or King's Landing, the wildfire? It's hockey's version of the wildfire from "Game of Thrones." It is just so explosive what is bubbling beneath the surface.
And yet, if it doesn't go the Leafs' way, which doesn't, again, seem to be this team's expectation, we need to rethink what needs to happen from a managerial standpoint, a hockey operations standpoint, an ownership standpoint. It could still be a no show in Game Seven which, of course, would make people think differently or at least make me think differently. And maybe there are culprits in the end in a Game Seven.
But despite the notion that's been held all throughout the season that heads would have to roll if the Leafs failed to get past the same point, what we have seen in six games versus the Lightning should be validating. It should be validating for Dubas. It should be validating for ownership when assessing the job that Dubas did. It should be validating for Keefe and the players.
Everyone should be feeling good about what has happened so far. This team is close. It's the best version of the team that we have seen. Kyle Dubas did do an incredible job. And I think Sheldon keeps doing a very good job as well. And to blow it up after a coin flip scenario goes the opposite way would be a horrific decision.
It should be validating what we've seen so far. And I mentioned [? Tess, ?] right? There's an immense one in front of the 20 players that will be on the ice Saturday night. But if it doesn't go well, Dubas's medal will be tested. The organization's resolve will be tested. Ownership and management's patience will be tested.
The Leafs need to be able to take a breath if this doesn't work to tinker and to not tear down because this team is good enough to win the Stanley Cup this season. There's a world where that's true. There's a world in which they do that. But there's also a world-- a world in a game that is defined by its randomness that it just doesn't bounce their way.
Through six games, if anything-- if one thing is true that we can make a solid determination about is that this team is different. But even if this team is different, it doesn't mean that the result is guaranteed to be. It's a tough, tough situation. It couldn't be any bigger. Game Seven Saturday night in Toronto.