There’s no shame in losing to the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion.
However, for the Maple Leafs, the pain that hit the Scotiabank Arena late Saturday night will continue.
The Leafs didn’t take any serve for granted and left everything on the ice, as the saying goes, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in Game 7 in a 2-1 loss.
Ultimately, the Lightning’s experience winning back-to-back Cups outweighed the first-round losses the Leafs have endured over the past five years. It is six years in a row that the Leafs have not made it to the second round.
While Tampa needed goalkeeper Andrei Vasilevskiy to make some big saves, the Lightning didn’t back down after going down 3-2 in the series to win the last two games.
The Leafs had 17 shots at Vasilevskiy in the third period and scored on none. That will not go away for the time being.
“It’s a game of centimeters,” said Auston Matthews. “It’s really frustrating, really disappointing. Every man there joined in and gave everything. In the end, they played one more time than us.
“They are the back-to-back Cup champions and they are a team that has been through a lot. They have been through a lot of heartbreak and have climbed to the top two years in a row. We are here.”
This was Tampa coach Jon Cooper in the morning: “We’re not surprised how good they are. They’ve been knocking on the door for so long. I think they have grown as a group, I think their stars are stars. They have a very good team game and the coach is doing a great job preparing them. The Leafs have a great team.” … We can’t imagine the sentiment would have changed much after the game, and Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe noted this: “We got a lot of respect in that (handshake) line from their team, which was nice to see. It was a very different show of respect on the other side than what we’ve experienced before. We deserve respect in the competition, but we are not in the game of respect. We’re in the winning game and we need to find a way to do that.”…Nick Paul was already giving Leafs Nation nightmares and almost made things worse when he collided with Jack Campbell four minutes into the third. Campbell got up in favor of his left leg, but remained in the game after some anxious moments… The Leafs had six shots on target when Ondrej Palat served a hooking minor, which came on 6:19 of the third but the No. 1 power game in the regular season couldn’t get the puck past Vasilevskiy… John Tavares scored one of his nicer goals in recent memory at 8:32 of the second as he circled the net, and a medley of players, to blast the puck past Vasilevskiy. However, instead of the game being 1-1, the goal was disallowed as Justin Holl was called up for interference on Anthony Cirelli.As hard as the order was for the Leafs to swallow, the call on Holl couldn’t. be ver avoid. He threw a punch at Cirelli, and if he hadn’t, Tavares might not have escaped Cirelli’s control. “I haven’t really seen it,” Tavares said. “I saw it quickly on the couch. It’s hard for me to comment. (Holl) told me he’s just trying to take his own space. One of those that could probably go either way.” … The Leafs didn’t just kill the penalty, they didn’t let it affect their desire. At 13:25 Morgan Rielly took a pass from Matthews and shot a shot past Vasilevskiy to get the draw the Leafs thought five minutes earlier… Paul scored his second of the game at 16:32 of the second when he managed to the better of TJ Brodie on a one-on-one and defeated Campbell on the other side. “Heroes are made here,” veteran Corey Perry said of Game 7s in general. “Maybe it’s not the big boy. It could be someone you’ve never heard of doing something that takes us to the next level.” We’ve heard of Paul, of course, but as Perry said, it wasn’t the big man who did it for Tampa… Unlike last year when the Leafs lost Game 7 to the Montreal Canadiens, and in the 2020 bubble when the Leafs lost a decisive Game 5 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, there was no hesitation on the part of Toronto to start the game… The Leafs were on edge from the first showdown and took the lead in the first few teams. Pierre Engvall and Marner had early opportunities… Brayden Point was in obvious pain when he stumbled from the front line straight to the locker room at 5:11 PM after falling awkwardly into the sideboards. Point preferred his right leg, and while things didn’t look good for the Tampa forward, he returned for the second period. Point was on the ice for one shift, then smashed his stick on the ice in frustration as he walked back to the bench. He stopped playing, but remained on the bench for the rest of the game… The Lightning came on the board at 6:24 PM of the first period when Paul scored on a rebound from Ross Colton.