The post-season picture: four key games for the Leafs’ playoff chances
Now more than ever, the Toronto Maple Leafs need to slide on their winning skates. The squad’s big 4-3 victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday earned them a critical two points after squandering opportunities against the New York Islanders and the Philadelphia Flyers earlier in the week, while also keeping the pace with the Sabres for the eighth and final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference standings. The problem is that the Leafs are still essentially in the same spot they were last week—only now they have but 13 games to make up six points. With four tilts on tap this week, they’ll likely have to net five, or perhaps even six, points if they want to keep their post-season dream alive.
1. Monday, March 14 vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
The best thing here is the Lightning don’t have as much on the line as the Leafs do. The bad thing is that they’re a better hockey team. Tampa Bay has a lot of firepower, but Leafs goalie James Reimer is the main reason the club is where they are right now. He’ll have to continue playing in fine form if the Leafs want to start the week off on the right skate.
2. Wednesday, March 16 vs. Carolina Hurricanes
This isn’t the toughest matchup of the week, but it may well be the most important. Carolina remains in the hunt for the same playoff berth Toronto is fighting for, and they also remain one spot above the Leafs in the standings. Two points on Wednesday could vault the boys in blue into sole possession of ninth place, which could prove to be an important symbolic victory.
3. Thursday, March 17 vs. Florida Panthers
This time around, the Leafs absolutely cannot afford to waste even a single point against an inferior squad like they did against the Islanders. The Panthers are one of the five worst teams in the NHL, and the Leafs will need the momentum heading into a much tougher contest on Saturday night.
4. Saturday, March 19 vs. Boston Bruins
The Bruins sit third in the conference right now and are a tough opponent at anytime, even at the ACC and with the Leafs’ playoff destiny staring them in the face. The season series is currently tied at 2-2, and the two teams will take to the ice again at the end of the month. Depending on what transpires in the meantime, this could be a monster, monster game for the Leafs.