As part of their NHL rewind, Sportsnet re-aired the Toronto Maple Leafs Game 7 win over the Ottawa Senators which brought back some memories.
Believe it or not, there was a time when the Toronto Maple Leafs would win a playoff series and not blow a big lead in Game 7.
The year was 2004 and going into a pivotal game against the Ottawa Senators, the Leafs were looking to win another series against their hated rival. They would also have to find out a way to win without Mats Sundin.
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Ottawa forced the do-or-die game after Mike Fisher scored in the second overtime of Game 6 as Ed Belfour did his best to give the Leafs a chance to end the series stopping 44 of 46 shots. The Leafs struggled to generate a lot of chances in this game scoring only a goal on 28 shots.
With the Air Canada Centre rocking and Bob Cole on the call, the Leafs and Senators would conclude a big chapter in the storied history between the two clubs.
This was the final time both teams would play each other in the playoffs which is why the Battle of Ontario made the early 2000’s an enjoyable period growing up as a Leafs fan. Even though Toronto won all three meetings against Ottawa, each series was chippy, competitive and had its moments.
In this game, there was one storyline that dominated the headlines and that was Patrick Lalime having a meltdown in the first period putting the Senators in a 3-0 hole. For the Leafs, they got some bigtime performances from Belfour, Joe Nieuwendyk and surprisingly enough, Tie Domi to come away with the 4-1 win.
The aftereffect of that series saw the Senators fire head coach Jacques Martin and trade Lalime to the St. Louis Blues and for the Leafs, it was the last time they won a playoff series.
When you look back at that Leafs team, this was an impressive team that was put together. Here let’s look at the roster for that season.
Not only did this team have Hall of Fame players like Sundin, Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, Ron Francis, Brian Leetch and Belfour but it also included Alex Mogilny, Owen Nolan, Bryan McCabe and Darcy Tucker. Those were just the veterans as Tomas Kaberle, Matt Stajan, Nik Antropov, and Alexei Ponikarovsky were under the age of 25 and playing some serious minutes in that series.
That team would ultimately lose to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round in six games after Jeremy Roenick scored in overtime. It was after that where everything would change not only for the Leafs but the NHL as well.
The 2004-05 lockout erased the entire season and brought in the salary cap and until the 2012-13 season, the Leafs did not qualify for the playoffs. Unfortunately, the team could not adapt to the changes made in the salary-cap era leading to the dismissal of John Ferguson Jr. and years of pain and mediocrity.
With the Leafs now coming off of three-straight first-round exits including two Game 7 losses, it really shows how tough it is to win the post-season. Those Leafs teams with Pat Quinn were arguably the last legit contender the Leafs had considering they went to two conference finals in that time.
For myself, those years were a big part of my childhood and cemented my passion for hockey and the Leafs. Now, more than ever, we should only hope that this current group can get the team back to there and Leafs Nation should do their best to cheer them on with the same passion.
What do you remember from those Leafs teams? Where does it rank among the best of all-time? Let us know in the comments below.