Maple Leafs’ respect from Stanley Cup champions provides little consolation for another first-round exit

Now what?
That’s the question the Toronto Maple Leafs are left to answer after falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning 2-1 in Game 7 on Saturday.
After a franchise record 54 wins and 115-point season, the Maple Leafs appeared set to write a new chapter in the playoffs. When they drew the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions as their opening-round opponent, they were eager to measure up against the best.
And despite what was a very close series, the Leafs found themselves on the losing end, again.
Another opening-round playoff defeat.
“At the end of the day, we didn’t accomplish what we wanted to accomplish,” Maple Leafs captain John Tavares said.
It’s the sixth consecutive opening-round exit for a team that hasn’t won a playoff series since 2004 and the pain is compounded by the fact that they held leads 1-0, 2-1, and 3-2 in the series, along with many opportunities in the overtime of Game 6 to close it out.
But the champions already have it figured out, while challengers have to find a way.
In the end, they just ran into a better, more-refined version of themselves.
“They’ve got all the pieces,” Lightning forward Steven Stamkos said of the Leafs. “They have everything, it’s just that we have everything, too.”
Heading into Game 7, the Maple Leafs never wavered in their confidence. They came out with a lot of energy, buoyed by a full-capacity Scotiabank Arena crowd, who were treated to their first Game 7 at home since Apr. 20, 2004.
Toronto got out to a great start and had a 5-1 shots advantage before a power play for Tampa in the second half of the first period evened things out.
The Lightning opened the scoring late in the period when Nick Paul picked up a rebound from Ross Colton’s shot for a 1-0 lead.
In the …

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Author: David Alter / The Leafs Nation

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