Toronto hockey fans haven’t had much to celebrate in the last decade but that could change this year. The Maple Leafs are back in the play-offs after a 9 year absence, and have a legitimate shot at winning it all. Recent precedent gives Toronto reason to believe they will break the curse and win their first Stanley Cup in almost fifty years.
Last season, the Los Angeles Kings came from nowhere to shock the hockey world to win it all. For the Leafs to do the same, their pathway will likely mimic the Kings run through the play-offs. Last year, the goal-tending from the Kings Jonathan Quick was superb and a big component of their success. The Leafs goalie, James Reimer, has never played in the Stanley Cup play-offs but don’t expect him to break under the pressure of the post-season He has risen to become one of Toronto’s most important players and their success will hinge on his continued stingy goalkeeping.
The Kings unexpected championship also relied heavily on their penalty killing success which was over 92%. The Maple Leafs should be looking to do the same with their top five ranked penalty killing unit. If Toronto continues to keep scoring down when in the penalty, it will make for a much easier road to the cup.
The Leafs will definitely need some scoring to back up goalie. Toronto will probably need some scoring from unexpected places, but they’ll rely on goal production from Phil Kessel. Youngster Nazem Kadri will have to hold up to the pressure of the spotlight and play as he has all season. To win as an underdog you need to be approaching your opponents from all angles, and personnel decisions will prove to be a critical piece of the puzzle. Randy Carlyle will need to match line-ups to the Leafs opposition from series to series to exploit weaknesses and shore up vulnerabilities. If Carlyle manages to get his inexperienced squad to take one game at a time, every series should be winnable. With solid goalkeeping and penalty killing, some road victories, and a little bit of luck, the Maple Leafs will bring their first Stanley Cup since 1967 back to Toronto.