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Behind the scenes of the Maple Leafs’ franchise-changing playoff victory

TAMPA, FL. Deep inside Amalie Area, there was a second when Wayne Simmonds was so overcome with happiness that he regarded much less like a grizzled veteran who might have performed his final NHL sport and extra like a child with out a care.

Wearing a plaid swimsuit, the 34-year-old actually skipped down the corridor to affix his teammates within the Maple Leafs locker room. He moved with such voraciousness that you just questioned if he would journey, fall and injure himself.

However as a substitute, he made it to the dressing room in a single piece and revealed his toothless grin to his associates.

And his smirk wasn’t the one one in a loud Leafs room that might have been a lot quieter in video games like this over time.

As a result of for the primary time since 2004, the Leafs exorcised their postseason demons by successful within the first spherical of the playoffs. And, once more, for the primary time in nearly a technology, there was an odd feeling all through the group within the spring: happiness.

It has been a very long time coming, Leafs head coach Sheldon Keefe mentioned.

These are the scenes of happiness on a day that modified the course of this Leafs core and presumably the franchise.

The Lightning had momentum within the sequence late Friday evening when the Leafs constitution landed in Tampa. After the Leafs took a 3-1 sequence lead, the guests throttled the Toronto Leafs in Sport 5, extending the whole variety of elimination video games wherein this Leafs core didn’t win to 10.

That double-digit quantity hung over the Leafs as they gathered for a workforce dinner at Meat Market, a steakhouse in Tampa’s upscale Hyde Park neighborhood. Tthe entire workforce felt that perhaps they might have a greater likelihood of erasing that quantity down the street, away from the noise that was creeping into the town they name residence.

In my time in that function, that is the primary time the workforce has at all times stayed collectively each evening,” Keefe mentioned of the workforce sticking collectively as a bunch at dinners earlier than each sport on this sequence. So I believe it is simply protecting issues at residence and protecting them in your thoughts.

But it surely was a message shared that struck a special chord: With the Lightning now having some daylight and an opportunity to get again into the sequence, the group admitted they wanted extra urgency.

We wish to give them that, Alex Kerfoot mentioned earlier than Sport 6.

Kerfoot insisted the workforce was energized after the Sport 5 loss, and for just a few moments the morning of Sport 6, you can argue they have been.

The gamers mingled as they talked about previous nights within the NBA playoffs. Within the dressing room, The Tragically Hips seminal 1991 file Street Apples blared from a speaker, solely slowing down for a track that appeared like a drunken stumble and lyrically epitomized the band: Lengthy Time Working.

It is the identical mistake / it was a very long time in the past

By the point the chants had stopped and Keefe had taken his seat on the desk within the pregame press convention, the sense of urgency had returned. Nonetheless, when Keefe opened his mouth, the urgency gave approach to the depth you’d anticipate from a Leafs workforce that many questioned could be on the verge of one other playoff collapse.

We’ve got some choices to make this afternoon on a few of our guys, so our lineups usually are not set, so I am not going to reply any questions, Keefe mentioned, virtually out of breath and you can inform he was pressured.

Justin Corridor has skated within the morning after each sport on this sequence, however after a tough sport in Sport 5, which means he’ll seemingly be out for Sport 6. It regarded like Timothy Liljegren could be in his first sport of the sequence. Fairly a change this late within the sequence, and one which left many within the area questioning if the workforce was making issues too tough within the deciding sport.

Earlier than the Leafs took the ice, Keefe continued to evangelise urgency.

We give every little thing we’ve to the duty at hand, return to the bench, have a drink and prepare to do it once more. That is all. Relentlessly doing it time and again and over, he advised his workforce.

This workforce did not get off to the beginning they wished and regarded overwhelmed by a quick and decided Lightning workforce within the first interval.

Nonetheless, within the first intermission, the Leafs remained, in line with Matthews, fairly upbeat.

There’s lots of speaking, lots of chatter and only a confidence within the group that these are the moments that we play for, that we dwell for, and also you simply should take one shot and any person was going to get it. That is actually all that has been mentioned, Matthews mentioned.

When he returned for the second interval, Matthews let his play do the speaking with a game-changing shift. He received puck battles, had three photographs on aim and scored on a slap shot for the primary aim.

Matthews mentioned religion by no means goes away.

Matthews’ aim introduced almost each member of the Leafs workforce lined up within the press field out of their seats. Sam Lafferty and Conor Timmins, each wholesome scratches, gave in to their primitive feelings and beat their chests convincingly.

The enjoyment was short-lived as Steven Stamkos’ third-period aim despatched the sport into additional time. Each sport at Amalie Area went into additional time.

Excessive above that workforce, Kyle Dubos might solely chatter concerning the Marlies Sport 2 playoff loss this afternoon. We are able to speculate that this may occasionally have been an try and stave off nervousness as additional time approached.

And all through the additional body, the Leafs regarded as assured with the puck as they’ve been all sequence, highlighted by John Tavares circling the highest of the puck earlier than sending a go to himself after which spinning it once more behind the online.

As he got here ahead with the puck on his stick, he turned, took a quick have a look at the online, and put the puck into the online.

It bounced off the left skate, Lightning defenseman Darren Ruddish, previous Andrei Vasilevskiy and into Leafs historical past.

Keefe was willingly on the bench in additional time, and when Tavares scored, he insisted he handed out. Keefe actually jumped off the bench, yelling profanity that he might should defend his kids from sooner or later.

Within the management field above the ice, Dubas pumped his fist gleefully, and his face instantly turned pink.

Moments later, Lightning CEO Julien Brisebois strode confidently to the room the place the Leafs’ administration workforce was housed and knocked on the door with one knuckle. Inside, Dubos hugged assistant common supervisor Brandon Pridham and particular assistant common supervisor and former Leaf Jason Spetz.

Dubas broke from the embrace and turned to Brisebois, whose hand was prolonged. Dubas regarded Brisbois within the eye and shook his hand.

Beneath Dubas on the ice, Luke Sheng was the primary to provide Tavares a giant hug. The remainder of the workforce quickly joined within the celebration, which admittedly appeared international to this workforce.

Marner left the group and embraced Ilya Samsonov, who was approaching.

Within the line for a handshake, the Leafs have been going to not solely earn respect, i.ehey have been additionally going to get help from the workforce they beat.

(Steven Stamkos) congratulated and continued, Tavares mentioned.

The Leafs entered their locker room, animated with equal components reduction and pleasure. A sequence of cheers and applause went out to numerous folks on the workforce.

We have been glad for one another, we have been glad for Johnny (Tavares), we have been glad for the goaltender, we have been glad for the coach,” Morgan Rielly mentioned, “however on the finish of the day we’re trying ahead to enjoying extra hockey and a few extra challenges forward, maintain this group collectively.

Because the celebration continued, Joseph Wohl turned his sights on the gamers who’ve suffered the longest from a scarcity of postseason success, together with Tavares.

“Very glad, I do not know what else to say,” Wall mentioned as cheers erupted outdoors the room. That is proper, he added with a nod.

Amid deafening screams from his participant, Keefe entered the locker room.

I acknowledged the truth that it was a protracted street for lots of our guys they usually went by way of loads to get right here, Keefe mentioned. For them to get that feeling tonight, they deserve it.

Matthews, who as soon as once more pushed the Leafs to the place they’ve lengthy wished to be, was pulled in numerous instructions by the Leafs workers. He walked out to the ready followers, family and friends members nonetheless within the stands to the refrain of Rockstar! Rockstar!

Within the stands, Matthews buried his head into his father Brian for a protracted hug.

Different Leafs like Noel Achiari would come again from that group with smiles the scale of the state of Florida.

Is there a riot occurring? Jake Mazin questioned aloud.

When reporters have been allowed into the locker room, some tried to drag the gamers away to speak. However, with a smile, Morgan Rielly dragged them away to proceed the celebration in a close-by dressing room, the place cans of Coors Gentle have been out there.

Many coaches, administration and gamers have caught what Luke Sheng affectionately known as chilly.

Matthew Good, the 20-year-old rookie who was surprisingly on the ice for the OT winner, bounced backwards and forwards between the locker rooms, barely understanding the place he was speculated to be for a second and never understanding methods to put together. It has been a tumultuous month for Good since he signed with the Leafs, as he is gone from a hotshot prospect to, in Sport 6, a top-line winger. His father Miro advised Athletic he has seen that these days his son is feeling increasingly assured and busier, and the telephone calls residence have gotten much less frequent.

Because the night started to wind down, Keefe arrived at his press convention with a smile he hadn’t seen anyplace 12 hours earlier.

Present time, he mentioned.

There, Keefe, who will be accused of being impassive when addressing the media, bought very emotional.

Playoff hockey is unbelievable, Keefe mentioned. This constructing was so noisy tonight. I do not know if I used to be capable of say a phrase with out shouting it as loud as I might to ensure the gamers might hear me. The depth and emotion within the constructing tonight from begin to end was unbelievable.

I look again a yr in the past, Keefe continued, we have been on this very constructing in Sport 6, in additional time, and we had alternatives to win the sport, nevertheless it simply did not go our manner.

He acknowledged that all through the sequence, this workforce has been completely different from the Leafs groups of late which were unable to win vital video games.

Feeling completely different would not assist us. It was obligatory to be completely different, Keefe mentioned.

Sport 6 was completely different.

Ryan O’Reilly knew it.

Wearing a blue checkered swimsuit, Ryan O’Reilly was one of many first Leafs to exit Amalie Area to a ready bus. However first he stopped to speak with still-sweating former teammate Pat Maroon, who stood by the wall, barely transferring. Maroon playfully poked Record within the abdomen whereas O’Reilly kicked backwards and forwards, unable to face nonetheless.

After the gamers left the world, their workforce left.

These are individuals who might not have gotten the possibility to have fun with the gamers and spend time within the solar with the cameras on.

Amongst them is Spezza, who has suffered three straight losses with the Leafs in his final three NHL seasons.

Earlier than the sport, Spezza sat alone within the management room excessive above Amalie Area and watched sport movie.

And after the sport, he walked, barely hunched over, with a stoic and decided look on his face. Spezza was on the 2004 Ottawa Senators workforce that the Leafs beat simply hours earlier than their final playoff sequence win. Three years later, Spezza reached the Stanley Cup Finals with these Senators earlier than shedding in 5 video games.

If anybody is aware of how arduous it’s to win within the playoffs within the NHL, it is Spezza.

And so he saved that stoic look, minus his signature goofy grin, step-by-step.

A reporter close by requested Spezzo how he was feeling. He did not cease, however he smiled for a second.

He did not say a phrase, simply gave a contented thumbs up as he continued to the bus and on to the second spherical of the playoffs.

(Photograph by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire through Getty Photographs)

Author: ZeroToHero

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