Can Leafs become 5th NHL team to overcome 3-0 series deficit?
It wouldn't be the first time Toronto has pulled off the feat in its storied history.
The Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in a virtually insurmountable hole, down 3-0 to the world-beating Florida Panthers in the second round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Morale in Leafs Nation is at an all-time low, with the season seemingly set to come to an unceremonious end, despite Toronto finally breaking their first-round curse with a 4-2 series win over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
But is there any hope for the Buds?
It turns out that a comeback from a 3-0 series deficit has been accomplished four times in NHL playoff history.
The 2014 Los Angeles Kings were the last team to do it, preceded by the 2010 Philadelphia Flyers, 1975 New York Islanders and — well, well, well — the 1942 Toronto Maple Leafs (in the Stanley Cup final, no less).
Coincidentally, the Kings and Flyers went on a run all the way to the finals, with the Kings eventually claiming their second championship in two years.
Here's a look at how the Kings, Flyers and Islanders managed to overcome the daunting 3-0 hole (we've excluded the 1942 Leafs since there were only six teams in the league at that time).
2014 Los Angeles Kings
Los Angeles pulled off its remarkable comeback in the first round of the 2014 playoffs against the San Jose Sharks. The Kings were completely dominated through the opening two contests, losing 6-3 and 7-2, respectively.
After a narrow 4-3 defeat in overtime in Game 3, goaltender Jonathan Quick had had enough, standing on his head to dominate the rest of the series. After L.A. took Game 4 by a score of 6-3, Quick allowed only two goals in the final three games, ultimately sealing the series with a comprehensive 5-1 win in Game 7.
Los Angeles's stars stepped up to save the season, with Anze Kopitar leading the way with 10 points in seven games. Drew Doughty registered seven points of his own, while Justin Williams scored four goals.
The Kings rallied to win the next two series in seven games before outclassing the New York Rangers in the Stanley Cup final, winning in five games and claiming the franchise's second Stanley Cup.
2010 Philadelphia Flyers:
The Flyers faced an equally daunting uphill climb in their second-round series against the Boston Bruins in 2010.
After close one-goal losses in the opening two games, the Flyers were pushed to the brink with a 4-1 defeat at home. Philadelphia entered overtime in Game 4 with its season on the line before Simon Gagné — who had missed the opening three games of the series with a broken foot — potted the overtime winner to give his team a lifeline. The Flyers blew out the Bruins in Game 5 and scrapped one out in Game 6 to force a decisive Game 7.
However, all the hard work was coming undone before their eyes in Game 7, as Boston stormed out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. Philly roared back with four unanswered goals to take the game and series at TD Garden, with none other than Gagné scoring the game-winning goal with under eight minutes to go in the third period.
While star Flyers forwards Daniel Brière, Mike Richards and Gagné led the spirited comeback, backup netminder Michael Leighton emerged as the hero of the series — and playoff run — after he came in for starter Brian Boucher, who was injured in Game 5. Leighton stopped 66 out of 70 total shots to backstop Philadelphia to the upset. He held the crease for the remainder of the playoffs, winning eight games (three shutouts) while sporting a .916 save percentage and 2.46 goals against average.
The Flyers easily dispatched the Montreal Canadiens in the Eastern Conference final in five games to move on to their first Stanley Cup final in 13 years. Philadelphia would then fall to the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks in six games.
1975 New York Islanders
The 1975 Islanders were also carried by an unlikely hero between the pipes. Legendary coach Al Arbour benched Hall of Fame netminder Billy Smith after losing the opening three games, opting to go with career backup Glenn Resch. Resch would reward Arbour for his faith with four consecutive wins and a remarkable .969 save percentage to beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.
New York almost pulled off the nearly impossible 3-0 comeback in back-to-back series, battling back from the dire deficit before falling to the eventual champion Flyers.
Can 2023 Leafs join the club?
What do these scenarios have in common, you ask?
Goaltending played a pivotal role in supporting each of these 3-0 comebacks, whether it was the starter stepping up, or a less-experienced netminder coming in and playing the hero.
The Leafs' goaltending situation is less than ideal at the moment after starter Ilya Samsonov left the Game 3 loss with an injury after colliding with defenceman Luke Schenn. Rookie Joseph Woll came in in relief, stopping 18 of the 21 shots he faced.
While Samsonov was feeling better on Monday, Woll could very well be in the crease for an all-important Game 4 with Toronto's season on the line. Is he the one to steer the ship and spur the Leafs to a memorable series win?
Additionally, the stars on each of the teams who have successfully come back from a 3-0 hole really stepped up when it mattered — something the current iteration of the Maple Leafs has so far struggled with. Morgan Rielly leads the team in points in Round 2 with three, while the Core Four of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares and William Nylander have combined for only four points.
It's not impossible. There is enough precedent to believe it can be done.
Are the Leafs the next team to pull off the greatest comeback in professional sports?