Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Jack Campbell was distraught after the Montreal Canadiens’ series-clinching 3-1 victory in Game 7 on Monday night.
A shot from Brendan Gallagher squeezed through his legs to give the Canadiens a 1-0 lead in the second period and Montreal went on to complete a comeback from a 3-1 series deficit.
“It’s just tough,” Campbell said in near tears. “I just think of how hard our team battled and for it to end on the worst goal of my career, to happen in Game 7, is not acceptable.”
Though the shot was one that Campbell would like back, goaltending was not the issue during the Maple Leafs’ collapse that kept them from their first playoff series victory since 2004.
The high-powered Maple Leafs appeared in great shape heading into the playoffs after winning the North Division and facing a team that was 18 points behind them in the standings. With a Canadian team guaranteed to make the NHL semifinals, a shot at winning their first Stanley Cup since 1967 seemed possible.
In many ways, this collapse seems the worst in their history because they were seemingly in control after winning Game 4.
But Auston Matthews, who scored 41 times in the regular season, had one goal in the playoffs. Mitch Marner, who had 67 points in 55 games, was limited to four assists and had the turnover that led to Gallagher’s goal.
Zach Hyman had one goal, trade deadline acquisition Nick Foligno had one assist and their power play efficiency was 13% — scoring three times on 23 chances — down from 20%.
“We’re a team that excels with the lead and we didn’t get a lead once going into those last couple games,” said Marner.
Injuries played a role, with John Tavares being taken off on a stretcher in Game 1 and defenseman Jake Muzzin missing part of Game 6 and all of Game 7. They were also stymied by Canadiens goalie Carey Price.
General manager Kyle Dubas has decisions to make, especially with the all-Canada division disbanding next season and the Maple Leafs returning to a division that includes the Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers — all teams that remain in the playoffs.
Forwards Matthews, Marner, Tavares and William Nylander, the lone consistent scorer in the playoffs with five goals, are locked in long term. So are defensemen Muzzin and T.J Brodie, and Morgan Rielly has a year left on his deal. But there are a dozen unrestricted free agents, including Hyman, veterans Foligno, Joe Thornton and Jason Spezza and goalie Frederik Andersen.
Campbell, who had a 1.81 goals-against average and .934 save percentage in the playoffs, is the lone goalie under contract next season. His strong play with Andersen injured carried the Maple Leafs down the stretch and earned him a nomination for the Masterton Trophy for perseverance.
“I think the team counts on me to be better and I know I can be a lot better than that,” Campbell said of Monday’s loss. “I’m going to get back to work and be better.”
The Maple Leafs will need to do the same.
North Division second-rounders to watch
With the Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers upset, the North Division final won’t have Matthews, Marner, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl.
So who are the players to watch?
Winnipeg Jets: Goalie Connor Hellebuyck, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner; Mark Scheifele, a two-way center who helped shut down McDavid; defenseman Neal Pionk, who did likewise, and forward Nikolaj Ehlers, a 25-year-old who’s on the rise.
Canadiens: Price, the franchise’s all-time winningest goalie; rookie Cole Caufield; rising forward Nick Suzuki, plus former Stanley Cup winners Tyler Toffoli and Corey Perry.
Cizikas comes through
New York Islanders forward Casey Cizikas had been without a goal since April 1. But he took an advantage of a Bruins pass deflecting off a teammate’s skate and scored on a breakaway in overtime Monday for a 4-3 series-tying victory.
“It’s been a real long time,” he said. “You’re just trying to do the right things in overtime, be in the right spots. I was lucky enough for that puck to pop off into the middle and give me an opportunity to get that one.”
The goal was also his first in the playoffs since 2015.
“This is sort of a character win for us and there’s no one that has bigger character in our dressing room and is more loved than Casey,” said Islanders coach Barry Trotz.
Tuesday’s playoff game
Tampa Bay at Carolina, 7:30, NBCSN. Lightning lead 1-0.