“You can’t be afraid to lose.”
Forward William Nylander’s fitting, inspirational quote at themorning skate was one of many from Toronto and Tampa as they prepared for Saturday night’s deciding Game 7 of their first-round playoff series at Scotiabank Arena.
Nylander touched on the overriding theme of this series for the Leafs: They are battling not only the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, but the weight of five consecutive first-round exits.
Their most recent loss might carry the most weight: to Montreal in seven last spring, after building a 3-1 series lead.
“We came out flat in those games, maybe a little bit scared to lose,” said Nylander, adding that the Leafs have no reason to be afraid. “We’ve got a great team.”
Lightning forward Corey Perry, who played for Montreal last season and scored in the deciding game, said stars are born in Game 7s: “Names are made … If you show up in Game 7, people will remember you … It’s where heroes are made.”
Both teams expressed confidence heading into what will be an emotional affair in front of a packed crowd.
“The mood is great,” said Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe. “I don’t sense any nerves … I just sense confidence and excitement … This is as confident as I have been coaching this team.”
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, one of the best quotes in the NHL, did not disappoint.
“I don’t want anybody to sit here and say, well, is it easier, because we won two Cups, if the Leafs get the best of us tonight.” the coach said. “It’s OK? That’s BS … We’re standing here on the cusp of greatness, and why the hell wouldn’t we charge through that door?”
Cooper also said there’s a balance with the emotions that are bursting prior to the game.
“The sun will come up tomorrow,” he said. “What’s that famous line? The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat. It’s extremely difficult when you lose … but damn, is it exhilarating when you win.”
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