Maple Leafs can't even beat the law of averages lately

by Scott Stinson
Claus Andersen / Getty Images

If playoff hockey has a singular characteristic, it's unpredictability.

It's weird bounces and dogpiles in front of the net. It's Adrian Kempe batting a puck out of the air for a goal and Drew Doughty scoring on a breakaway despite not actually shooting the puck. It's Morgan Rielly firing well wide and the puck hitting two bodies on the way into the net.

It's upsets and chaos and no prediction is safe.

And yet, as sure as the sun rises in the east, the Toronto Maple Leafs find themselves in a first-round playoff crisis. Again.

Wednesday night's Game 3 loss to the Boston Bruins at Scotiabank Arena had all the hallmarks of Toronto's recent playoff struggles.

A power-play outage that failed to convert despite several excellent scoring chances? Check.

A strong game from the opposing goalie while the Maple Leafs netminder allowed a softie? Yes and yes.

Officiating controversies that only add to the anxiety? Yep.

A mysterious and undisclosed injury to one of Toronto's stars that's kept him out of the lineup for three games? Actually, that one's new. And since we're talking new things, how about the decision of radio announcer Joe Bowen to take to social media to shame the sleepy Scotiabank Arena crowd into acting like it hasn't been forced to sit there as punishment? When the play-by-play guy is sounding the Klaxon, things are dire.

The only surprising thing about any of this is that amid playoff hockey's Random Outcome Generator, events are unfolding so true to expected form.

The Maple Leafs' offense has been among the most high-powered in recent years and was again this regular season, second only to Colorado in goals scored. Then the postseason hits and the Leafs skate straight into the dead-puck era.

Toronto scored at least four goals in 44 games this season. The last time the Leafs scored at least four in a playoff game was 11 games ago when they put five past Tampa Bay in last year's first round. Other than their three-goal explosion against Boston in Game 2 on Monday, they've scored exactly twice in nine of their last 10 playoff games. In the other one, they scored once.

That consistency, in playoff terms, is baffling. Reasons can be offered for the annual spring slowdown, and they usually are: The Leafs are too reliant on skill to create offense, or they're too soft, or they're too top-heavy. Where is the sandpaper, Leafs Nation cries in unison. But even if you allow those criticisms, and overlook the fact Toronto's front office has been on something of an annual grit-acquisition strategy for years now to supplement its high-skill core, you'd think the odd playoff game would result in a scoring outburst just because these things happen. Ten of 16 playoff teams have at least four goals in one first-round game through Wednesday night.

At the other end of the ice, it's not that goaltender Ilya Samsonov has been consistently poor. Rather, the goal he allowed in the second period of Game 3 - a Trent Frederic shot from distance that beat him short side - continued a Leafs tradition of a weak goal that derails what had been a fine playoff game to that point. Toronto's been waiting for one of its goaltenders to go on a classic playoff heater for what seems like a lifetime, and none of them, from Freddie Andersen to Jack Campbell to Samsonov, has managed it for any length of time.

Meanwhile, the Leafs have been undone by everyone from Vezina types (Andrei Vasilevskiy) to cagey vets (Carey Price, Sergei Bobrovsky) to future journeymen (Joonas Korpisalo). Playoff history is littered with examples of series that turned on an unexpected goaltending performance. The Leafs, or at least this modern version of them, are still waiting for theirs.

The other thing that's familiar about all this is the caveats. It's early. The Leafs are only down 2-1. Even when the team struggled to get over various Boston- and Tampa-sized humps in recent seasons, it was always in the series and poised to turn things around if some of the vagaries of playoff hockey could just turn in its favor.

The same is true of this series. The return of William Nylander from his mystery injury, if it happens, could be just the grease to get Toronto's power-play wheels turning again. Samsonov could do that thing that goalies sometimes do and stand on his head. Maybe Joseph Woll will come in and do it. Maybe the lower bowl at Scotiabank Arena will be raucous and lively for Game 4 on Saturday, and the Bruins players will be intimated by playing in front of such a cauldron.

OK, that last one probably won't happen, no matter what Joe Bowen wishes. But the Stanley Cup Playoffs are supposed to be about weird things taking place, about surprises and flukes. Perhaps the Maple Leafs just need some chaos. So far, the familiar script isn't working.

Scott Stinson is a contributing writer for theScore.