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There’s nothing quite like another Game 7 for the Toronto Maple Leafs to ignite the passions of Ottawa Senators fans.

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As the Maple Leafs try, yet again, Saturday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning to exorcise the ghosts of so many years of playoff collapses, the viewing party in Ottawa offers up a unique perspective on the whole thing.

For large swaths of the country, Toronto is Canada’s team, but if you conducted an informal poll on the patios in the ByWard Market or around TD Place, the wishes would lean towards the Lightning striking the Maple Leafs one more time.

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It’s all about the bitter memories of the most heated moments of the Battle of Ontario a generation ago (Joe Nieuwendyk-Patrick Lalime, Tie Domi-Ricard Persson, Pat Burns-Jacques Martin, anyone?) along with a touch of an inferiority complex towards the big city with the big buildings and the big bankroll to sign the biggest names.

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The current Maple Leafs have been built to win the Stanley Cup now and heads will roll if there’s yet another early post-season failure.

Accordingly, the underdog Senators fans, usually overwhelmed in their own building when the Maple Leafs come to town, are taking a measure of joy in the heat shining down on Toronto.

Just in case you’re somehow not familiar with the intensity of the puck pressure, the Maple Leafs have been eliminated in the first round of the playoffs for the past five seasons, going 0-for-9 in potential series clinching games since 2018.

That includes Thursday’s 4-3 Game 6 overtime loss in Tampa, where Toronto held a 3-2 third period lead.

Every time a lead is blown, the Maple Leafs players of today unfairly take on the weight of the Maple Leafs squad of 2011, which blew a 4-1 third period lead in Game 7 against the Boston Bruins before losing in overtime. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly deserve their share of criticism for what’s happened since 2017, but they weren’t part of the earlier ugly meltdowns.

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There were also plenty of awful, uncompetitive Maple Leafs teams along the way, but it’s still almost unfathomable to consider that Toronto hasn’t won in the playoffs since knocking off the Senators in Game 7 of the first round on April 20, 2004.

How long ago was that? If you had a kid born on the day Nieuwendyk chased Lalime from the net, he or she might be headed off to university in the fall. Facebook was two months old. Twitter was still two years away and the iPhone arrived another year after that.

It’s impossible to keep track of the tears spilled into empty beer cups by Maple Leafs fans along the way.

For all that, though, it’s the Maple Leafs that once upon a time routinely kicked the Senators to the curb in the spring. Not eleven. Not twice. Not three times. But four times in five years, including defeating some of the most loaded lineups in Senators history.

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Back then, the Senators were similar to where the Maple Leafs are now, with a dynamic team led by high draft picks maturing into stars, producing a run of 11 consecutive playoff appearances.

Over and over again, though, the Maple Leafs delivered the playoff misery.

The twist here is that 38-year-old Jason Spezza has become a mentor and voice of experience for the Maple Leafs. He was credited with helping calm down goaltender Jack Campbell when the Maple Leafs rallied to win Game 5 after falling behind 2-0 early.

Back in 2004, Spezza was a 20-year-old kid with the Senators. To this day, many Senators fans still shake their heads, wondering why Spezza was a healthy scratch for four of those seven games against the Maple Leafs, including the deciding contest. Spezza scored 22 goals and 55 points during the 2003-04 regular season.

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If there’s anything that might give Senators fans pause in cheering for the Lightning, it’s in hoping for the best for Spezza, who played in Ottawa from 2002-14 and followed Daniel Alfredsson as team captain.

Alfredsson, in fact, has expressed mixed emotions about the series.

Guesting with TSN 1200 earlier this week, the greatest captain in Senators history said he could never forget about the intensity of the Senators-Maple Leafs rivalry. Alfredsson’s controversial hit and ensuing goal on Darcy Tucker in the 2002 series between the teams is a signature moment in team history.

At the same time, Alfredsson also said he’s in Spezza’s corner and that it’s long overdue for a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup.

Considering the number of times Toronto has been here before, the odds surely must be in their favor to turn over a new Maple Leaf. Right?

Whatever way it goes Saturday, expect the reaction to be drastically different in Ottawa than it is in Toronto.

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Twitter.com/Citizenkwarren

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