The Toronto Maple Leafs’ mindset has changed. After being eliminated in the Eastern Conference First Round for the second consecutive season, they know the time has come to expect more.
“It rips the heart out of your chest,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Friday. “Last year when we lost out of the playoffs, I don’t think it was devastating to anybody. This year, you’re set up, you’re right there, you’re ahead, you’ve got it going good. It just goes to show you how fragile things are at times.”
The Maple Leafs lost 7-4 to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Wednesday, a game they led 4-3 entering the third period.
“We’re upset right now, that’s for sure,” Toronto defenseman Nikita Zaitsev said. “We were expecting more. We’re not happy with this. Last year it was like, ‘Yeah, we got a good battle in the first round.’ But now it’s not like that. We’re wanting more. It’s pretty sad.”
The Maple Leafs played one more game than they did during the 2017 playoffs, when they lost to the Washington Capitals in six games. But last season came after a 30th place finish in the NHL standings in 2015-16 and was their first trip to the postseason since 2013 and second since 2004. Led by a youthful core entering this season, including centers Auston Matthews, 20, and William Nylander, 21, and forward Mitchell Marner, 20, there was plenty of promise regarding what the future might hold.
But the way the first round ended left the Maple Leafs with an empty feeling.