Toronto Maple Leafs win first playoff series since 2004
(Photo Credit: @MapleLeafs/ Twitter)

In a historic moment for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the team won their first Stanley Cup Playoff series since 2004 with a thrilling 2-1 overtime victory against the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference First Round at Amalie Arena on Saturday. This long-awaited victory marks a significant turning point for the Leafs and their loyal fanbase.

John Tavares, the hero of the night, scored the game-winning goal at 4:36 into overtime, deflecting the puck off Lightning defenseman Darren Raddysh’s skate. Describing the play, Tavares said, “With the space that I had and knowing [Morgan Rielly] went to the net, I said let’s throw it there and see what happens.”

The Maple Leafs will now face the winner of the series between the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers, set to conclude with Game 7 on Sunday.

Toronto GM Kyle Dubas had an epic reaction to the winning goal, jumping for joy in the press box alongside team president Jason Spezza. Dubas first joined the Leafs as Assistant General Manager in 2014 before taking over the GM role in 2018.

Toronto coach Sheldon Keefe expressed his excitement for the team and the city, stating, “It’s been a long time coming, a long time coming for a lot of players in our room, long time coming for myself, long time coming for Leafs Nation.” He praised the incredible atmosphere of playoff hockey and acknowledged the team’s determination.

Auston Matthews opened the scoring for the Leafs in the second period, while Lightning captain Steven Stamkos tied the game in the third period, sending it to overtime. Ilya Samsonov made 31 saves for Toronto, while Tampa Bay goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy made 20 saves. The Lightning, three-time defending Eastern Conference champions, had won 11 of their past 12 playoff series, including the Stanley Cup in 2020 and 2021.

Matthews acknowledged the significance of the victory for the team, saying, “Obviously it’s a bit of a monkey off our back and we still got plenty of work to do but this one obviously feels really great.” Teammate Mitch Marner added, “It’s a special moment, but we can’t be satisfied. There’s a lot more ahead and we’ve got to be ready for it.”

Tampa Bay has struggled in recent playoff overtime games, holding a 1-10 record in their past 11 matches. Reflecting on the loss, Lightning coach Jon Cooper said, “At some point, you’re not going to get the break, that’s just the way it is. And for [Toronto], that has struggled in the playoffs, at some point they were going to get a break. It just [stinks] that it was in a series against us.”

The Leafs’ last playoff series win occurred in 2004, when they defeated the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals. Since then, they have experienced six straight first-round series losses, including a qualifying-round loss in 2020 during the NHL bubble. Now, with this milestone victory, the team looks forward to the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead in the playoffs.