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UNDRAFTED

They Did It

That's right. They actually did it.

It’s April 30th, 2023 and the Toronto Maple Leafs are heading to the second round. That sentence, “The Leafs are headed to the second round” has not been spoken truthfully in over 19 years.



The game was tied 1-1 as the third period came to a close. Leafs fans held their breath. It was noticeably tense. As the puck dropped at the start of overtime, there was still no release. This was a tension that had been building for nearly 20 years.



William Nylander broke into the Lightning zone at 15:59 in overtime. Battling against Mikail Sergachev, he made a pass to Morgan Rielly that resulted in a near-missed shot.



The puck then came to Luke Schenn, who, despite being drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2008 and playing over 300 regular season games for them, never played in the playoffs for the team until this year, as he was traded in 2012. Schenn pinched to keep the puck in the offensive zone, getting it down low where rookie Mathew Knies battled in the corner.



After winning the battle, he passed the puck into open ice behind the Lightning net where captain John Tavares picked it up. And, like every Toronto kid on a pond, in their driveway, or at their local rink has done in fantasy, he spun and fired a shot that caught the goaltender off-guard, perfectly deflecting off the Lightning defender's skate and slowly trickled over the goal line.



That’s when the damn burst. Leafs fans all over the world found their voice. And it was unmistakable.



19 years of waiting, frustration, anger, and loss. All exorcised by one shot from John Tavares, who grew up worshipping the blue and white.



Champagne bottles popped, fans screamed, and Sheldon Keefe nearly jumped through the ceiling of Amalie Arena.



It would be nearly impossible for me to put into words the sheer joy, jubilation, and pride that permeates through Leafs nation, and the greater Toronto area. So I’ll let some numbers do the talking.



It’s been 6,948 days since they last won a playoff series on April 20th, 2004.



Auston Matthews was six years old.



Mathew Knies was a toddler.



The highest-grossing movie was Shrek 2.



The song of the year was “Yeah!” by Usher.



The newly released iPod mini was selling out at stores.



Dany Heatly was on the cover of NHL 04 wearing an Atlanta Thrashers jersey.



Whether they remember the Leafs last series win or have gone their entire lives knowing only first-round exits, Leafs fans finally have something to celebrate in April.



But as the team acknowledged, the job isn’t over yet.



"I’ve been here seven years. Mitchy, Willy, Mo’s been here 10, Johnny five,” Said Auston Matthews postgame. “Just to get over that hump is obviously huge mentally for us and we don’t want to look back now. We want to keep putting our foot on the gas and keep pressing forward."



“I think we’re looking forward to the challenges that are ahead, obviously we’re proud of the effort but ultimately we want to keep playing and keep pushing for more.” Said Morgan Rielly after the win.



The Leafs will play the winner of tonight's game seven (who nobody saw coming) between Boston and Florida. But for now, they can enjoy this moment. All of Leafs Nation can enjoy this moment.



They’ve done it. They’ve won a round. How far can they go?



As far as the belief, and as far as the passion will carry them.

Dave Felsbourg

Sunday, April 30, 2023

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