HENDERSON, Nev. – The “Big Four” is back.
Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly will still be part of the core of the Toronto Maple Leafs after another failed Stanley Cup Playoffs, ready to write a new chapter that includes a happy ending.
« I think it’s a show of confidence in our group, and I think it’s an opportunity for us to change the script, » Reilly said during the NHL Players’ Media North American Tour at Lifeguard Arena in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas, on Friday.
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“Ultimately, we are not happy with the way our playoffs have gone in the last few years. Last year, we were talking about the chance to get our revenge and prove that we could end this, and we didn’t. So we’re going to keep saying the same thing.
“We are extremely focused, we have huge confidence in our abilities, and it’s up to us to get the results. Any time you get the chance to turn the tide for a band that had their hearts broken the year before, it’s a golden opportunity. »
The Maple Leafs shattered team records for wins (54) and points (115) last season, finishing fourth overall in the NHL. Matthews became their first 60-goal scorer and won the Hart Trophy, awarded to the team’s most valuable player by a vote of members of the Professional Association of Hockey Writers.
But the Ontario team finished second in the highly competitive Atlantic Division behind the Florida Panthers, winners of the Presidents’ Trophy. As a result, the Maple Leafs found themselves having to face the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning, in the first round of the playoffs. They went down in seven games.
Toronto lost in the first round of the playoffs for a sixth consecutive season and lost in an ultimate game for the fifth straight year. The « Big Four » was there for each of these setbacks.
Some supporters, and even some media, are demanding changes.
“What happens outside happens outside,” Marner said at a charity event in London, Ont., on Thursday. “We can feel it, but these files belong to the leaders. We cannot change the past. They place their trust in us, and we place our trust in them. We have a great team this year and we can’t wait to get going. »
Matthews and Rielly made a point of recalling that several teams suffered for years in the playoffs before winning the Stanley Cup.
The Washington Capitals hadn’t made it past the second round in nine playoff appearances from 2008 to 2017 before triumphing in 2018.
The Lightning lost in the Cup finals in 2015 and the conference finals in 2016 and 2018 and were swept in the first round in 2019 before winning the Cup twice in 2020 and 2021.
The Colorado Avalanche failed in the first round in 2018 and second rounds in 2019, 2020 and 2021 before lifting the prized trophy last season.
« Every course is different, » Matthews said Friday. […] We believe in our group and we are very motivated. We haven’t achieved our goals yet, so it continues to add fuel to the fire. But we are convinced that we are very close to the goal, that we are one of the best teams in the League and that we will be very competitive again. »
Video: TBL@TOR, #5: Matthews breaks deadlock late in 3rd
A few changes were still made, especially in net. Departures include goalkeepers Jack Campbell and Petr Mrazek and attackers Ilya Mikheyev, Ondrej Kase and Jason Spezza. The gardians Matt Murray and Ilya Samsonovattackers Calle Jarnkrok and Nicolas Aubé-Kubel and the defenders Jordie Benn and Victor Mete will attempt to replace them.
Newcomers will have to find a way to adapt and develop a chemistry.
« There are going to be ups and downs, but I think we have to limit them as much as possible and put ourselves in the best possible position when it comes to the playoffs, » said Matthews. Everyone says the regular season doesn’t matter. She matters. »
Despite playoff appearances and good regular season results, Matthews says what matters most is “keeping good habits and building that consistency throughout the year. So when the playoffs come around, like you’ve faced adversity and been through ups and downs, nothing really affects you. »
Here is the summary for the “Big Four”:
« You have to put yourself in a position to be successful, and then you have to start winning big games, » Rielly said. We’ve been in countless positions to win Game 7 or Game 5. You just have to do it.
“Overall, I think we have to have that mindset when the time comes. We lived the experience in this first round. We lived the experience in these big games. Now it’s up to us to change that. »
With the collaboration of NHL.com journalist Mike Zeisberger