‘We don’t need to be scared to lose’

TORONTO – Fear.

It can motivate, or it can paralyze.

William Nylander admitted the latter may have played into all those past failures ended by this Toronto Maple Leafs core when the puck dropped on do-or-die playoff series games.

Two Game 7s in Boston.

One Game 5 in a best-of-five against Columbus, inside Toronto’s silent pandemic home.

And another head-scratcher here at Scotiabank Arena in Game 7 last May against Montreal.

On the morning of yet another Game 7, another chance to buck these Leafs’ 0-8 trend of failing to eliminate a postseason opponent when given the chance, Nylander said, yes, he was motivated by the past disappointments but could not dwell on them .

“We came out flat in those games, maybe a little bit scared to lose,” Nylander said. “We don’t need to be scared to lose. We’ve got a great team. The best team will win tonight.”

Teammate Mitch Marner allowed that “maybe” the players’ history of dropping the ball at the one-yard line had toyed with their Game 7 mindset in past springs.

But he defiantly asserted that will not be the case Saturday night, with the barn jammed loud and the hockey world glued to see if they can become the first Maple Leafs team to touch Round 2 since 2004.

Marner was six years old at the time.

“That’s a long time ago. It’s a new time now. It’s a new age. And we’re excited,” Marner said. “We’re not going to talk about the past. We’re just going to focus on the here and now.

“We worked for home-ice advantage for this moment, so we’re excited. I think there’s always going to be nerves, so just embrace it.”

The Maple Leafs roundly downplayed nerves and worry at their morning skate.

Head coach Sheldon Keefe projected assuredness.

“This is as confident as I’ve been coaching this team,” Keefe said Saturday morning.

“The players are going to be relaxed. The players are going to compete. They’re going to play with energy. That’s what I’m confident in. We’re going to give ourselves every opportunity to win the game.”

Ironically, the two-time champion Tampa Bay Lightning aren’t ignoring fear. They’re embracing it.

“The fear of losing might be bigger than the want to win,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Playing with a little bit of fear of losing, that’s a great motivator.”

Cooper is pouring cold water on the theory that his room is playing with house money here, that inspiration is harder to summon when you already have two rings on your fingers.

“I don’t want anybody to sit here and say, ‘Well, is it easier because we’ve won two Cups? If the Leafs get the best of us tonight, 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 went on.

“Let’s go get this. Let’s go attack this. If fear is the motivator, than so be it. But I don’t want there being any excuse if it doesn’t go well for us tonight. Like, oh, it’s OK, we won two. That would be unacceptable.”

One-Timer: The Maple Leafs ran through an up-tempo mandatory morning skate, while the Lightning gave its players the option to show up at the rink at all…. Corey Perry, who scored in Game 7 in this building against the Leafs last May, took the podium, as he has prior to Tampa’s wins in this series…. Wes McCauley and Eric Furlatt are your Game 7 referees tonight…. No lineup changes are expected for either team.

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