For the fourth consecutive year of the Auston Matthews era, the Toronto Maple Leafs failed to win a round in the postseason, and the feeling isn't getting easier to bear for the face of the franchise.
"Having a good regular season isn't cutting it anymore," Matthews said in his season-ending press conference, per the Toronto Sun's Terry Koshan. "We have to figure out the playoffs. Four years in a row is a little bit embarrassing."
The Leafs entered this year's expanded playoffs as the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference after an up-and-down campaign in which the club struggled to find consistency after a head coaching change in November. Toronto was then eliminated from the postseason in the qualifying round Sunday after a shutout loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in Game 5.
In Matthews' rookie year, the Leafs challenged the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals in a hard-fought six-game series that featured five overtimes. Since then, the Leafs have been considered contenders in the Eastern Conference, but they subsequently flamed out in seven games to the Boston Bruins in 2018 and 2019.
While clearly frustrated, Matthews believes he and his teammates have what it takes to go on a deep playoff run.
"This core believes we're right there," he said, per TSN's Kristen Shilton. "We don't really care what other people think, or how far away other people think we are. ... We're going to power through this adversity and we'll break through eventually."
Veteran defenseman Jake Muzzin, who won a Stanley Cup with the Los Angeles Kings in 2014, believes the same.
"The will to win has to burn a little hotter than the other stuff. Once we find that, we'll be dangerous," he said, according to The Athletic's Joshua Kloke.
The Leafs' postseason frustrations extend well beyond their current core of stars, as the club hasn't won a playoff series since 2004.