Regardless of result, these N.L. Leafs fans are happy to finally watch 2nd-round hockey
Toronto fans say second round a long time coming
Toronto Maple Leafs fans have been imagining their team playing in Round 2 of the NHL playoffs for 19 years, and supporters in Newfoundland and Labrador saw it come true Tuesday night.
The Leafs exorcised their playoff demons by eliminating the Tampa Bay Lightning from the playoffs on Saturday to book their ticket to the second round for the first time since 2004.
Despite a loss in Game 1 on Tuesday night, Leafs fan Charles Pickett called their series against the Florida Panthers uncharted territory.
"For the first time with this core group, they have gotten the fourth win [of the first round]," Pickett said Tuesday.
"I was in the ninth grade [in 2004]. The most stressful thing in my life the last time they did this was a chemistry assignment."
Toronto defied the odds against the Lightning by winning games 3, 4 and 6 in overtime in Tampa, becoming the first team in NHL history to win three overtime games as the road team in the playoffs.
Paddy Phillips and his daughter, Nora, who were in Tampa for Game 3, say watching the Leafs win the series on Saturday was special.
"So many years of those pucks not going our way and going in the net, I gotta say there was a few tears. A few very, very happy tears," Phillips said before Tuesday's matchup.
Andrew Corbett, owner of Maverick's Sports and Collectibles in St. John's, sold a lot of Leafs merchandise Tuesday. He believes Leafs fans are the most die-hard hockey fans in Newfoundland.
"Most teams, as soon as a team gets put out in the playoffs or if they're not doing good in the season, the fans kind of disappear and you don't sell much merchandise or anything else," he said. "But the Leafs fans, they're always supporting the team."
Phillips believes the team has the potential to go far in the playoffs. He says he's agreed to paint his beard — and the siding on his home — blue and white if the Leafs win the Stanley Cup.
"I've already got vacation put away in June every year just in case it does happen. I really don't know what's gonna happen," he said. "It's gonna be a feeling like none of us have ever felt before."
Pickett says he has faith in the team heading into the second round, but is living by his playoff motto of "No thoughts, just vibes."
If the Leafs keep winning, he said, fans should enjoy it, given years of ridicule they've faced from other fan bases.
"If they keep going, celebrate. Be obnoxious, have fun with it. We've taken a lot of barbs the last handful of years. Enjoy it."
With files from Malone Mullin