Whether or not you believe in omens or fate or curses or a God who hates Canada, it’s never a good sign when a goalie loses his corporeality for a few crucial seconds in the first period of a Game 7 that a whole country is desperately clinging to as a final hope. With Winnipeg and Calgary both dispatched by their first-round opponents, the Maple Leafs very quickly became the last chance for a whole country trying to win their first Stanley Cup in a college grad’s lifetime. Unfortunately, when the Leafs play the Bruins in the playoffs, this is what happens. Pucks just slip through impossible spaces without logic or meaning, like so:
That’s an incredible GIF that would make any goalie in the world want to take up baseball, and that’s also the opening goal from Boston’s Joakim Nordstrom on Leafs goalie Frederik Andersen in what was eventually a 5-1 Bruins win to take the series. (3-1 before the goalie got pulled.) It’s a solid enough encapsulation of a franchise that can’t escape its own futility no matter how hard it tries. The Maple Leafs went after and won the allegiance of John Tavares last summer. They gave William Nylander exactly the kind of pricey, long-term deal he wanted in order to get him on the ice this season. They signed Auston Matthews until 2024. And they watched Mitch Marner blossom into one of the most brilliant young forwards in the world. But all they have to show for it is the exact same Game 7 loss to the Bruins as last year, and the exact same Game 7 loss to the Bruins as 2013, and a playoff series win drought that still extends all the way back to the canceled lockout season.
The Bruins, in fairness to them, didn’t win just because the Leafs are cursed and Canadian hockey is doomed—although that’s clearly part of the issue. They won by getting another in a series of extremely consistent performances from Tuukka Rask, who stopped 32 of 33 on Tuesday night. And on offense, they found scoring in unlikely places, as Nordstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Sean Kuraly scored the trio of Bruins goals with Andersen in net. In the first six games of those series, those three combined for just one goal total, and that was a Nordstrom empty-netter.
So the Bruins were the better team in this series, and that’s maybe not a shock in itself. But the swiftness with which a very good crop of Canadian teams got knocked out is a bit stunning, and the specific failure of this very talented Leafs squad can’t help but feel like a bizarre refutation of the way franchises are supposed to progress. But it’ll take a whole 12 months at the very least for Toronto to break any narrative trends, while the Bruins go on to play the Blue Jackets in the second round. This is the part where New York Islanders fans gloat their asses off.