Leafs aim to finally flip playoff script against battle_laser freckle removal healing time

Leafs aim to finally flip playoff script against battle-tested, back-to-back champsThe Toronto Maple Leafs, after setting a franchise high with 115 points in the regular season, pivot to meet their most daunting task to date - the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the post-season.

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‘Ready for a battle’ against Lightning, looking for 1st playoff series win since 2004

Joshua Clipperton · The Canadian Press(Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

The message from the Toronto Maple Leafs, and to themselves, has been consistent all season.

Head down, one foot in front of the other, don't look too far ahead.

Learn from a painful past, but don't dwell too long on the rear-view mirror's ugly reality.

Under the intense, never-ending spotlight of hockey's biggest market, and coupled with what could be a crushing weight of playoff baggage, it was the only way forward for a roster pockmarked by recent failures.

As players set individual career-highs and franchise records fell in 2021-22, Toronto never seemed to stray much from its collective resting heart rate, even during a sputtering start to the schedule.

"We just try to go out there and give ourselves the best opportunity on a daily basis," said captain John Tavares. "Whatever it is, we just want to go at it head-on."

A massive challenge. But when I look at our group, I think the harder the better.— Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe on Round 1 matchup vs. Lightning

"There's always topics of conversation floating around," added star sniper Auston Matthews. "There's only so much that we can control."

The Leafs will be looking to continue down that same path with blinders still in place as they pivot to meet their most daunting task to date -- the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the post-season.

  • MATCHUP: Tampa Bay at Toronto, Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET

"A massive challenge," said Toronto head coach Sheldon Keefe, whose team hosts Game 1 of the best-of-seven series Monday at 7:30 p.m. ET. "But when I look at our group, I think the harder the better.

"That's what we need."

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Mitch Marner, meanwhile, hit 97 points, William Nylander scored a career-best 34 times and goaltender Jack Campbell earned his first all-star appearance.

But those numbers and accolades, including the Leafs' glittering special teams, won't mean much if Toronto is once again unable to get past the first round, despite the fact its opponent accumulated 110 points and wound up with the NHL's eighth-best record.

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That's simply the reality for a club that hasn't won a playoff series since 2004 or lifted the Cup since the NHL's Original Six era.

"We know we're in a special market, special fan base that is going to add a lot of fuel for us and push us along," Tavares said. "That's the special part about being here."

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