Rick Zamperin: Maple Leafs must prove their first-period funk is a fluke

The Toronto Maple Leafs have another chance to prove to their fans and the NHL that they are ready and capable of playing a full 60 minute hockey game.

Toronto failed to show up in the first period of their last two games, fell behind by a few goals, and could not come back to win the game.

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On Monday, the Leafs were wrecked 6-2 by the league-leading Tampa Bay Lightning after trailing 2-0 after the first period and 4-0 midway through the second frame.

Two days later, the Leafs were down 4-0 after one period and trailed the Chicago Blackhawks 5-0 after mounting a furious late game comeback before falling 5-4.

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After Wednesday’s loss to the Hawks, Leafs players like Auston Matthews, Morgan Rielly, John Tavares, Mitch Marner and a bunch of others were saying all the right things, but the proof will be in the pudding.

Toronto will have a chance, again, to prove that they’ve learned their first-period lesson when they host the Philadelphia Flyers Friday night. The Leafs will play in Ottawa against the Senators on Saturday.

This team has already run out of excuses — passable ones, anyway — for their first-period failings and displaying another lifeless start to a hockey game will set off deafening alarm bells in Leaf-land.

You don’t have to be a Rhodes scholar to figure out that Toronto and Boston will once again meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

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Over their last dozen games, the Maple Leafs must sort out their first-period blues, get healthy — especially on the back end — and hope like heck that they’ve done enough to secure home ice advantage in round one.

Otherwise, Toronto’s recent struggles at the start of hockey games will be the least of their worries.