Tip of the Tower looks at unanswered questions that would haunt Toronto sports fans if the worst comes to pass with the COVID-19 pandemic, starting with the Toronto Maple Leafs.
On the evening of March 11th, the Toronto Maple Leafs were (oddly) in a very clear position.
With 12 games to go, Toronto found themselves in third place in the Atlantic division. The strength of the metropolitan division meant that the Atlantic would not have a wild card this season, so they were effectively in the last possible spot they could own.
There was no chance of catching Tampa, who in turn had no chance of catching Boston. If they could hold off the oncoming Florida Panthers (three points back with a game in hand), they would play the Lightning in the first round – a Lightning team without its star Steven Stamkos.
Of course, reality had other plans. After Rudy Gobert tested positive for COVID-19 it was announced in the NBA that night, and 12 hours later, the NHL season was “on pause”.
Three weeks later, it has not reset.
Leafs fans experienced a topsy-turvy campaign in 2019-20, one that saw a coaching change, star players injured, and an exciting race at the goal-scoring record books by Auston Matthews. But if this season never gets a chance to finish, what will the lasting question be for this team?
Leafs fans would spend the rest of these quarantine-dominated months thinking of what the first round of the playoffs would have felt like without their familiar foe.
What plagues Leaf fans more than anything else?
Boston in April.
This was the year where the cursed matchup, the battle that has plagued the Leafs for three of their last four playoff appearances, would be avoided.
The Leafs were NOT going to have to march into the TD gardens for another potential heartbreaking Game 7 in the first round. They were going to play a team that was banged up, a team that failed to make it out of the first round last year despite being the best team in the league, with all the pressure on it.
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The Lightning would have tightened up faster than the toilet paper aisle at your local superstore when the new shipment comes in if they lost one of the first two games, the freshness of last year’s disappointment still rearing its ugly head. The Leafs, meanwhile, would finally be fighting someone new, and not the bully that has whipped their butt for as long as they can remember.
Yes, it’s not a sure thing that the Toronto Maple Leafs would have dispatched Tampa. And yes, if the Leafs had defeated the Lightning, Boston was more likely than not the next stop on the quest for the Stanley Cup.
But don’t underestimate what winning a playoff series could have done for this core, and this fanbase.
It’s been said so many times now the words have almost lost their sharpness, but Scotiabank Arena can have an atmosphere problem when the Leafs get behind. It’s a well-deserved cloud of depression, brought on by over 50 years of letdowns, but it makes for a painful “we’re-watching-a-car-crash” feeling whenever the Leafs are behind.
But that’s because a 20-year-old Leaf fan was four the last time the team won a playoff series. There is no positive memory to go on, only let downs and disappointment.
With a series win under their belts, this young core would have finally delivered some meaningful success – and a generation of fans would have watched a handshake line that DIDN’T spell the end of their team’s season. With that kind of confidence going into the second round (the Leafs in the second round!), who knows what would have happened.
It could have been the year they finally exorcised the demon.
Now, we may never know.
If the NHL season doesn’t return, do you think it will be a missed opportunity for the Toronto Maple Leafs? let us know in the comments below.