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Toronto Maple Leafs star Auston Matthews celebrates his goal against the Tampa Bay Lightning with William Nylander and Mitch Marner in Game 4 of their first-round playoff series on April 24, in Tampa, Fla.Chris O'Meara/The Associated Press

Nineteen years.

That’s how long it’s been since the last time the Maple Leafs won a series in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

They have had seven chances since 2004 to win another and have failed each time. They are 0-10 over the last five years in series-clinching games.

That is how huge a moment is upon us on Thursday when Toronto has a chance to eliminate Tampa Bay. If it does not win Game 5 at Scotiabank Arena it has two more chances.

For their own emotional and mental health – and that of the entire Leafs Nation – it would be best for the Maple Leafs to do it now. Not go back to Tampa for a Game 6 on Saturday. Not allow the Lightning to extend it to a seventh game on Monday and for all that ‘Oh no, not again’ doubt to creep in.

Toronto took charge of this first-round meeting with victories in overtime in Games 3 and 4 at Amalie Arena. On Monday it trailed 4-1 in the third period before mounting a comeback that will never be forgotten.

So now here the Maple Leafs are on the precipice of a historical achievement many thought they were incapable of. Matthew Knies, the rookie winger, was a year-and-a-half old when they last won a round – over the Ottawa Senators in seven games.

The club returned from Tampa on Tuesday and had a lively practice session on Wednesday. This is the first time during this round that games weren’t played every other day.

It is an opportunity for Tampa Bay to regroup and for Toronto to take a deep breath.

“The schedule being what it is is unique,” Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs head coach, said Wednesday. “In a lot of ways it has allowed us to sort of disconnect and just unplug from the series and gave us a moment to refocus and recharge for Thursday’s game.

“It’s a chance for us to get out and work on a few of the things we have talked about over the last number of days.”

A year ago, Tampa Bay trailed 2-1 and 3-2 before it finally eked out a win in Game 7 over Toronto at Scotiabank Arena.

In 2021, the Maple Leafs held a 3-1 series lead over the Canadiens and then lost the next three, the last again on its home ice.

Not that it could not happen again, but this feels different this year. Back-to-back overtime wins in games where they were outplayed. Until Monday, the Lightning had never lost a post-season game when leading by three goals in the third period.

In each of the three previous years, it seems to me like the Maple Leafs approached the playoffs like they were walking on eggshells. As if waiting for something bad to happen. Now they are far more confident even if not proclaiming so publicly.

There is no reason to stir up a Tampa Bay contingent that has won two of the last three Stanley Cups and reached the final again last year.

“We have been in a lot of Game 7s but now it is a little different,” William Nylander said Wednesday. He had assists on two goals in the third period in Game 4 and another on Morgan Rielly’s winner in overtime. “All I know is that we have to bring our best tomorrow and shut a team down.”

It sounds easy enough but has proven to be elusive and painful for the core – Rielly, Nylander, Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and John Tavares.

“Those guys have been through a lot together and so have I, and that’s felt and it is real,” Keefe said. “But there is motivation and focus because of that.”

Keefe took over in November, 2019 when Mike Babcock was fired after a bad start. Keefe’s teams have gotten better each year but have had a hiccup in the first round.

“For me, we have to prepare to win one hockey game,” Keefe said. “That’s really it. To think about anything else outside of that is a distraction and it is on me as a coach and on our players as individuals to keep the focus where it needs to be.”

One win, and they are done with the Lightning and most likely headed to Boston next week for Games 1 and 2 of the second round.

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