Every hockey fan came into the 2022-2023 season aware of how disappointing the Toronto Maple Leafs have been in Stanley Cup Playoffs. Their young core had been tasked with ending a playoff series win drought nearly two decades long and faced immense pressure.
Last year, it looked like the Maple Leafs would come through, but this year, they actually did. Toronto eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the first round to reach the second round for the first time since 2004.
With the Leafs on a high, I expected the floodgates to burst open for this group. It became apparent early in round two that that would not be the case.
The Maple Leafs dropped the first three games against the Florida Panthers. They did win Game 4 but ultimately lost in Game 5 at home in overtime.
Does winning one series make this year a success for the Maple Leafs?
In the regular season, Toronto was great, though that makes little difference at this point. Everyone is accustomed to this team doing well during the 82-game campaign. It is assumed that this will be a playoff team. The true judgment would lie in the postseason.
Winning in the first round is a big deal, as that is a huge weight now lifted off the shoulders of Toronto’s players, fans, and organization. However, the worst possible scenario unfolded in the second round.
I hate to take anything away from the Maple Leafs’ win over the Lightning, but their disappointing series against the Panthers casts a shadow over what they did against the Bolts. It hardly even feels like Toronto participated in the second round.
Yes, the first goal was to win one series. Mission accomplished. But let’s not lose sight of the fact that winning, or at least contending for, the Stanley Cup is still the expectation. By that standard, the Leafs fell well short in 2023.
Overall, the Maple Leafs went 50-21-11 (111 points), defeated Tampa Bay in six games in round one, and lost to Florida in round two, four games to one.
The regular season for the Maple Leafs was good, and the first-round victory was incredible, but losing in round two, in five games especially, will leave a sour taste in their mouths once again.