TORONTO – If you have yet to “turn the page,” the way professional athletes are instructed to do after every final buzzer, the Great Big Book of Toronto Maple Leafs Games is stuck open to May 12 and 14 — a pair of excruciatingly narrow one -goal losses to the eventual Stanley Cup finalists.
For the sake of the Nation, we won’t belabour the misery. Yet with two key characters in Toronto’s Game 6 and Game 7 defeats speaking publicly this week for the first time since those potential series-clinchers, it’s worth getting their feelings on record.
Alexander Kerfoot needed time to process what went wrong in Tampa Bay.
“You try and learn from every experience, right?” the forward said Friday. “Really no different than it has been in the past couple years. You learn from those experiences, but you try and flush them away as quickly as possible as well.
“Because once it’s done, it’s done. You can’t do much about it.”
Game 6 took a toll on Kerfoot.
Fairly or not, some will remember his 2021-22 campaign not for posting a career-best 51 points and plus-19 rating but for surrendering a costly neutral-zone giveaway to Ondrej Palat in Period 1 and committing a high-sticking minor 200 feet from his own net in Period 3 that led to a lengthy 5-on-3 Tampa power play.
Both gaffes led to Lightning strikes, and the Maple Leafs lost 4-3 in overtime.
“My emotions weren’t great. Obviously, you never want to be on that side of things. And it’s different in a team sport than it is an individual sport,” Kerfoot said.
“In an individual sport, you can live with those mistakes a little bit easier because it’s all on you. In a team sport, you make a mistake like that, it impacts the group. It impacts the organization. It impacts the fan base who cares so much about this team. So, yeah, it sucks.
“You never want to be involved in plays like that. But it happens. Like I said, you got to wash it out, move on to the next. Obviously, the series didn’t go the way we wanted it to. But once the season is done, it’s done. And you just got to focus on getting better. I mean, I care a lot about this game, this sport, this team. I want to do my best for this group. I just got to continue to do that day by day.”
Credit Kerfoot for answering questions about an old game with new horizons ahead.
The player is moving on, toward a shot at redemption and a critical contract year. He won’t cry over spilled milk.
“Penalties happen. It was a tough time in the game for something like that. But they won fair and square. They’re a really good hockey team,” Kerfoot said.
“We had a chance in Game 7. We had a chance in [Game 6’s] overtime. It’s over now, and we’re just focused on this season.”
Leafs fans who believe in multiverses could stir themselves crazy wondering how the playoffs might’ve unfolded had Tampa gone without a two-man advantage … or had Justin Holl not been called for interference in Game 7.
Holl’s pick of Anthony Cirelli in the cycle freed John Tavares to snipe a puck past Andrei Vasilevskiy that, for a moment, appeared to tie Game 7 1-1.
Alas, Holl was whistled for interference and the goal never reached the board — a moment the defenseman relived during the off-season.
“That was a tough call. I felt like we were both going on the same path. And I actually tried to get out of the way, and [Cirelli] kind of came into me — or that’s what I felt like. And maybe if that’s not a goal, it doesn’t get called. But it was just kind of a bang-bang situation. Obviously I didn’t love it, but that’s what it is,” Holl said.
“I don’t really think I would’ve done anything differently. I tried to get out of the way. You just try to make the right decision at the right time, and sometimes it doesn’t go your way.”