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Maple Leafs’ latest Game 7 loss adds to core’s disappointment

BOSTON — For the fourth time in 11 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs bid adieu to their season with a handshake line at center ice of TD Garden after losing Game 7 to the Boston Bruins.

The question is, how many of them will be saying goodbye again in the coming weeks, this time to the Toronto organization?

Admittedly, the Maple Leafs, buoyed by the return of star center Auston Matthews, fought valiantly in a heartbreaking 2-1 overtime loss to the Bruins in the deciding game of their Eastern Conference First Round series here Saturday.

But they did lose.

Again.

Make it one postseason series win in the past 20 years.

Make it a 1-8 record in Stanley Cup Playoff series in which Matthews, forwards Mitch Marner and William Nylander, and defenseman Morgan Rielly — the bulk of the team’s core — have appeared.

How do you bring the same band back?

That’s the question for first-year general manager Brad Treliving to ponder.

Moreover, how safe is coach Sheldon Keefe? Even team president Brendan Shanahan?

Those are issues new Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment president and CEO Keith Pelley may have to address.

In terms of the players, Keefe was asked about the future of the core and whether he thought it might be able to eventually break through. Keep in mind that that group includes captain John Tavares, who is 1-6 in postseason series with the Maple Leafs.

“We’ve been talking about this for a long time and we’ve tried to break through for a long time,” the coach said. “So, you know, any answer is going to fall on deaf ears in that sense. And I get that.

“All I’ll say is that the group pulled together to me, and the way it pulled together here in this last week, and through the season, this group was different this year. The core you’re referring to isn’t different. The guys around were different, the feeling around the team was different, we played different.”

Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs and their legion of loyal, long-suffering fans, the result wasn’t.

And afterwards, the crushed players were saying many of the same things they’ve stated after so many frequent early playoff exits.

“We’ve been through a lot together,” Matthews said of the core. “I mean, in the end, it’s a game of inches (and) we haven’t quite gotten over that hump. But obviously, through the years, you grow and we’ve come extremely close.”

Give credit where it’s due.

Matthews, who won the Maurice “Rocket” Richard Trophy for most goals in the regular season (69), worked valiantly to return to the lineup for Game 7 after being out since the third period of Game 4 with an undisclosed illness/injury.

Nylander, meanwhile, disclosed that he missed the first three games of the series with migraines, which he said gave him blurred vision. He rebounded to score Toronto’s final three goals of the series.

“It (stinks), to be honest,” he said when asked about the loss. “We were really close and we battled back in the series.

“I don’t know what to say. It’s an empty feeling right now.”