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Toronto Maple Leafs players react after losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning at Scotiabank Arena on May 14.Dan Hamilton/USA TODAY Sports via Reuters

After they’d blown it again on Saturday night, the Maple Leafs sent Morgan Rielly out to talk first.

Good choice. Rielly is easily the most likeable member of the Toronto roster. He doesn’t talk like a robot manufactured in Flin Flon, as every one of Rielly’s teammates tend to do in these situations.

Rielly isn’t a dissimulator or a prevaricator or any of those bad things people hate in a losing team. He’s a dreamer, which might be worse.

“In certain ways, there were good things that happened this year,” Rielly said. “We’re moving in the right direction. Like, we’re getting somewhere.”

Let me spin around in a circle to make sure. Nope, this looks like the same place to me.

Nicholas Paul scored twice and the Tampa Bay Lightning beat the Leafs 2-1 in Game 7 on Saturday night to win their first-round playoff series. Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped 30 shots for the two-time Stanley Cup defending champions.

You don’t want to go in too hard on Rielly because, like all of us, he is a creature of his environment. He didn’t hit the 2012 draft thinking, ‘Y’know what’d be great? To make a bunch of money and never, ever win anything.’

Toronto made him this way. It has turned him and everyone else in the Leafs organization into a bunch of reverse Chicken Littles. Because for the Leafs, the sky is always rising.

Blow a big lead in a Game 7? ‘Great. Wonderful lesson.’

Manage to survive six games? ‘Definitely showing progress.’

Lose in seven, but manage not to blow a lead? ‘I think we’re starting to figure this whole pro sports thing out.’

Do that again? ‘This game is all about putting in the reps.’

Lose in a one-off pandemic qualifying round? ‘Guarantee you one thing – we’re never doing that again.’

Blow a 3-1 series lead? ‘Our bingo card is really filling up.’

Lose another series in which you had your opponent on the mat? ‘We’re moving in the right direction. Like, we’re getting somewhere.’

If Toronto has trained Rielly & Co. to enjoy the warm breezes coming off its annual implosion, the Leafs have trained Toronto right back.

We no longer debate the Leafs as a viable hockey concern. What we’re interested in is the quality of their non-viability.

They’re going to lose. That is the starting point of every Toronto-based conversation about the Leafs. Question is – how are they going to lose?

Will Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner show up? They did. And then they didn’t.

Will it come down to goaltending? Yes. Tampa’s.

Who’s going to make the big mistake? This one has got easy – the referees. In Toronto, when Justin Holl sets a pick that would make Charles Oakley blush on a tying Leafs goal, it’s not Holl’s fault that he did it. It’s the refs’ fault that they saw it.

Can they get this thing past five games? Yes, praises be. Now everyone in blue is spared the embarrassment of pretending to shed a tear on locker clear-out day.

Were there small bursts of hope? This is the most crucial question.

Because people have accepted that the Leafs will never win, Toronto feeds its hockey jones on wild swings of emotion between its limited supply of playoff games.

Fans react after the Maple Leafs lose to the Tampa Bay Lightning in Toronto.Christopher Katsarov/The Canadian Press

After getting shellacked in Game 4, the mood was total desolation. Listening to the Sportsnet panel, you figured the best idea going forward was to dissolve the franchise.

Then after the big comeback in Game 5, total delirium. Proof of life. An obvious sign that the curse had been lifted.

Knowing that it only has 10 days or so a year to jam an entire playoffs’ worth of sensation in, Toronto does its best to hit either end of the hysteria spectrum. It’s like stretching, but for the soul.

After 18 years of the same thing, the result is a bizarre sports co-dependency.

The fans know the Leafs will lose. That is factored into all their sports expectations.

The Leafs know the fans think they are useless. The trick is being just a little bit better than everyone’s worst expectations.

That bar has been set so low, you’d have to bend down to trip over it.

This year, the excuse was front loaded – Tampa Bay. As soon as the Leafs matched up with the Lightning, you could feel the pressure bleed away. The Leafs were going to lose, sure, but to the double Stanley Cup champions. Not too shabby. Not too shabby at all.

At times, Tampa tried its best to blow up the plan. The Lightning looked tired verging on bored for stretches, including most of the first period of Game 7. Every once in a while, your eye would drift over to Nikita Kucherov doing figure-eights in the neutral zone and think, ‘Did they give him the night off?’

Only two Lightning players really showed up for the final game – double-goal scorer Paul and goalie Vasilevskiy. But because it’s the Leafs, two committed men is all it takes.

Afterward, the usual visual pantomime of despair. Matthews used to be surly after a big loss early in his career, but Toronto has taught him the proper form. Bow your head. Mumble platitudes about the best fanbase in the NHL. No need to get creative. Say the same things this year that you said last year.

The final funeral oration is saved for GM Kyle Dubas’s end-of-season presser. What’s it going to be this year?

Take the blame on himself? That’s a reliable one.

Give all praises to the magnificence of the Lightning? That’ll also work.

He could rip into his own team, but he’s done that once already and it made people edgy. Probably too risky to do that again.

Dubas won’t have to work too hard. A local consensus is already forming about the one thing that needs changing about the Leafs – nothing.

Hey, they lost this year and every year going back to the Franco-Prussian War. Obviously, that means the exact same bunch of guys are due.

The Leafs have been doing this for so long that everyone has memorized their lines. There was one crack after Game 7.

Having muttered through his remarks, Matthews was hit with an unexpected question about whether he feels the weight of constantly losing: “Is it heavy to carry?”

Matthews chewed his lip and said, “I, um, only disappointed with the game tonight.” Then he turned suddenly and walked out of the room.

Matthews had been caught up short. But he’ll be ready for that one the next time this happens.