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David Pastrnak scores in OT, putting end to gutsy Leafs’ season

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The comeback clock struck midnight for the Maple Leafs on Saturday.

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After trailing 3-1 in the best-of-seven series against the Boston Bruins, the Leafs couldn’t fully recover.

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More pain at the hands of the Bruins came in Game 7 when David Pastrnak scored at 1:54 of overtime at TD Garden, eliminating Toronto from the 2024 Stanley Cup playoffs.

Upon scooting past Mitch Marner in the neutral zone, Pastrnak took the puck off the end boards after Hampus Lindholm dumped it into the Leafs’ end, got behind Morgan Rielly and used a backhand deke to score on Ilya Samsonov to give the Bruins a 2- 1 win.

“Very disappointed to not come out on the right side of it,” coach Sheldon Keefe told media in Boston. “Loved how our team fought to put us in this position to compete and play in this game and have a chance to be one shot away.

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“When you reflect on the series, you don’t love the hole we dug ourselves. That’s a big reason why we’re here. It’s a tough one to lose, a tough way to go.”

The loss extended a string of Game 7 losses to six in a row for the organization. Toronto has not won a Game 7 since April 20, 2004, against the Ottawa Senators in the first round.

The Leafs were the 65th team in National Hockey League history to force a Game 7 after being down 3-1 in a series. The Bruins became the 33rd team to win Game 7 after allowing the opposition to tie the series.

The Leafs showed great character in rallying from being down 3-1 in the best-of-seven first-round set. But in a series in which they didn’t have their full set of their stars for all of it, they couldn’t complete the comeback.

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Had the Leafs had more success on the power play, and on the penalty kill, we’re probably talking about a Toronto series win.

The Leafs outscored the Bruins 11-10 at five-on-five, but the Bruins crushed them on special teams, going 6-for-17 on the power play. The Leafs were 1-for-21.

The Bruins are headed to the Sunshine State to clash with the Florida Panthers in the second round, with Game 1 set for Monday night in Sunrise.

Bruins d-man Hampus Lindholm 27) celebrates his game-tying goal versus the Leafs on Saturday.  AP
Boston Bruins’ Hampus Lindholm (27) celebrates his goal with Justin Brazeau (55) and Trent Frederic (11) behind Toronto Maple Leafs’ David Kampf (64) during the third period of Game 7 on Saturday. The Bruins went on to win in OT. Michael Dwyer/AP

POTENTIAL CHANGES

The off-season speculation begins now, with the future of three men — Keefe, Marner and team president Brendan Shanahan — sure to dominate the discussions of what comes next.

There’s no doubt that general manager Brad Treliving will have to make a move (or two) of significance. That could include firing Keefe and/or asking Marner to waive his no-move clause.

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The Leafs demonstrated that they could play tight, defensive hockey at the most intense time of year. Their overall physical nature was new for the group.

But given the Leafs’ inability to turn regular-season success into series wins in the post-season under Keefe, few will be surprised if Treliving decides to make a change behind the bench.

The Leafs can start negotiating a new contract with Marner, who has one year remaining on his current deal, on July 1. How will that conversation between Treliving and Mariner’s agent, Darren Ferris, go?

Marner didn’t prove his worth in the series, recording three points in seven games.

Shanahan has been in charge for 10 years and the Leafs have won one playoff series. Will new MLSE boss Keith Pelley need to be convinced that he shouldn’t fire Shanahan?

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This Leafs group, the core that is, has never been great at looking inward and being truly self-critical. That continued.

“Look, I don’t think there’s an issue with the core,” William Nylander said. “I think we were (bleeping) right there all series, battled hard and got to Game 7 in OT. That’s a (bleep) feeling.”

And this from captain John Tavares: “The type of hockey we needed to play to give ourselves a chance to win the series, and the way we came together, there’s no doubt we are right there.”

Actually, there is some doubt. Close doesn’t count in hockey. And it’s not as though the Leafs are coming close to winning the Stanley Cup.

“This is as tight a group as I’ve been a part of here,” Auston Matthews said. “I feel like we say that every year, but it truly was an incredible group.”

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But not good enough, nor tight enough, to win.

Keefe paused after he was asked how strongly he believes this core will eventually break through.

“We have been talking about this for a long time, trying to break through for a long time,” Keefe said. “The answer is going to fall on deaf ears in that sense, and I get that.

“All I will say is the way the group pulled together in this last week, and through the season, this group was different this year. The core you are referring to isn’t different. The guys around it are different, the feeling around the team was different, we played different. I thought we showed signs in this series of a team that could win. There are reasons for me to believe that this team will win.”

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GAME ON

The match served as a snapshot of what the series had become. It was tight-checking, with scoring chances mostly coming only after diligence.

The suspense had observers on edge from the opening faceoff, and there was nothing to show on the scoreboard through 40 minutes.

Nylander scored the game’s first goal at 9:01 of the third period, hitting an open net behind goalie Jeremy Swayman on a pass from Matthews, after Tyler Bertuzzi got control along the boards.

The building wasn’t silent for long. At 10:22, Lindholm tied the game, getting a shot through some bodies to beat Samsonov on the short side.

Thick was the drama before the game, as word began to circulate that Leafs goalie Joseph Woll would not be playing.

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That became the Leafs’ reality when Samsonov led the team on to the ice for the pre-game warmup. Within seconds, the Leafs posted on X that Woll was out because of an injury that the 25-year-old suffered in Game 6.

There had been no indication in the previous few days that Woll, who starred in the Leafs’ wins in Games 5 and 6, would not be in net. Keefe confirmed that it was late in Game 6 that Woll was hurt.

Martin Jones dressed as the backup.

Samsonov was sharp, finishing with 29 saves.

Maple Leafs' William Nylander (88) scores against Boston Bruins' Jeremy Swayman (1) as Bruins' James van Riemsdyk (21) defends to give Toronto a short-lived 1-0 lead in the third period of Game 7 on Saturday.  Boston stormed back to win in OT.  Michael Dwyer/AP
Maple Leafs’ William Nylander (88) scores against Boston Bruins’ Jeremy Swayman (1) as Bruins’ James van Riemsdyk (21) defends to give Toronto a short-lived 1-0 lead in the third period of Game 7 on Saturday. Boston stormed back to win in OT. Michael Dwyer/AP

MATTHEWS RETURNS

Then there was Matthews, who had been skating by himself in the past week before he joined his teammates for the morning skate and then played 17 1/2 minutes after missing the previous two games.

Initially, Matthews missed practices and morning skates as he dealt with an illness. Sometime in the past week, the thinking is that it was an injury that kept Matthews out.

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“I’m not going to get into that tonight,” Matthews said when asked about his injury. “The next couple of days, will process this and go over it, but not getting into that tonight.”

Matthews wasn’t himself, certainly not the dominating player he was in Game 2, but was able to make an impact. As well as an assist, Matthews had three shots on goal, six hits and was 11-8 in the faceoff circle.

In Matthews’ return, Nick Robertson was scratched.

NYLANDER CONFIRMS

Nylander shed some light on why he missed the first three games of the series.

“They just kept me precautionary to see what was going on,” Nylander said. “I had a migraine, but in case it could have been a concussion (he was kept out). Once I started feeling better, they let me play.”

What difficulty would there have been in trying to play though a migraine?

“The situation is very complicated,” Nylander said. “It’s hard to explain exactly what it is. My vision goes, can’t really see out of my eyes, gets messed up. It’s hard to play.”

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