Maple Leafs win North Division, but “the real work begins now” – fr

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Maple Leafs win North Division, but “the real work begins now” – fr


TORONTO – Wayne Simmonds settled in for his post-game press conference, glanced at his Zoom reflection and let out a PG-13 exclamation.
“I need a haircut. Holy s – ”said Simmonds, speaking on behalf of a nation. “We had a barber for most of the guys. Unfortunately, I need a different type of barber so my barber couldn’t get in. It hurts a bit here.

He says something we charge around mid-May and the biggest problem plaguing the Toronto Maple Leafs could be grooming (despite their confusing power play).

The former Jekyll and Hyde hockey team – the one whose regular seasons were a frighteningly inconsistent roller coaster, pulling their panicked fan base with every dip, dive and corkscrew – was nowhere to be found in 2021.

In its place is a club that has traversed Canada end to end, claiming the seed in the North Division with a 3-2 comeback victory over the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday night at home.

Yes, the Maple Leafs are (dare we say it?) Consistent.

With two games next week in the opening round, likely against those same Canadians, Toronto will, for a while, profit from its glittering record of 35-13-6 and 0.704 percentage points. It’s not since 2000, when Pat Quinn was in charge of the bench and Mats Sundin was a point-per-game monster, that the Maple Leafs have won a regular-season division title. It was only the second season since the 1967 expansion that Toronto achieved the feat.

Simmonds, proud son of Scarborough, says he never remembers the Leafs winning their division.

We don’t blame him. Simmonds was only 11 in the spring of 2000. Destiny’s Child’s “Say My Name” dominated FM radio and Erin Brockovich ruled the box office. So this was at a time when Beyonce shared the same billing as Kelly and Michelle, and people left their homes to visit dark buildings called cinemas.

“That would have been pretty crazy,” Simmonds said, imagining what a full Scotiabank arena would have looked like that night. “The sound of the fan simulation isn’t quite the same as having real bodies in the seats and real people cheering you on.

“He feels good. I want to pay tribute to each member of our team and our organization. I think we had injuries along the way, and every man stepped in whenever we needed it.

What’s most remarkable about the Leafs checking this item off their to-do list is how mundane it felt.

Of course, they fought through a lackluster first period and fell 0-2 to their older rival. But once Toronto woke up and started planning their comeback – first with Pierre Engvall’s third strike in as many games, then with sniper William Nylander extending his last points streak to seven games. – you could feel the inevitable.

Mitch Marner’s 20th of the season (all tied for strength) proved the dagger, and Jack Campbell locked the doors to advance to 17-2-2, the best 21-game performance of any goaltender in history of the Leafs.

Whether it was Auston Matthews’ 40-goal trot to the Rocket, Campbell’s timely emergence as a trusted number one, Marner’s magical production, or the reliable and abundant sources of secondary scores. , the Maple Leafs have repeatedly reminded the rest of the country of who owns The Throne.

Despite their disappointing special teams, the Leafs reasserted themselves as an elite 5v5 offensive threat in 2021 but, more importantly, transformed into one of the top five evenly matched defensive groups.

“We felt really good about our offensive team and where we were at, but we knew we needed to improve defensively this season,” said coach Sheldon Keefe. “I would say right there – the team’s commitment to defending the season. Now obviously we’ve had good goalies throughout the season as well, despite the adversity we’ve used four goalies.

“But the fact that we were able to keep the puck out of our net, I would say, is the main reason we were able to be as consistent as possible so that we could keep our place at the top of the division.

Every time a booming contender took a run for Toronto’s top spot in the standings – first Montreal, then Edmonton, then Winnipeg, then silence – the Leafs created more separation and more confidence.

“This year it looks like we’re going into a bit more confident games on a daily basis. We have more confidence in ourselves as a group, ”said Alexander Kerfoot. “Expectations are higher, our expectations are self-imposed.

“We feel we can do a lot of damage. Every team towards the end of the year feels like they have a chance, but I think it feels a little more real this year.

First in the North was a real target, spelled out explicitly from day one by GM Kyle Dubas, through Keefe and all the way down.

It’s about building habits and slamming the pedals. About giving you the best chance at success and the weakest Round 1 opponent available.

“You can’t play the playoffs in training camp. You cannot play the playoffs in the first game of the regular season. You have to go through the process and go the path of the journey, ”said Keefe, who addressed his players after the win with a short speech in the locker room. “Having to hang on to first place here and secure the first place despite being competing with an Oilers team that didn’t seem to lose much, we didn’t give it back and we found a way to make it happen. ‘get. Finished. It’s a very positive sign for our team, and I just recognized it.

The Maple Leafs will relax on Sunday with a well-deserved day off. They will also receive their vaccines, a sign that things are improving. Much like Saturday’s division clinch is a promising boost but far from the end goal.

“That was our goal at the start of the year, and it feels good to accomplish it,” said Justin Holl.

“But I think we all know the real work begins now.”

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