Why the Leafs’ post-season push is more important than actually making the playoffs
Had the Toronto Maple Leafs’ improbable run at the playoffs been a touch more magical and a touch less realistic, Tuesday night’s 4-3 victory at home against the Buffalo Sabres could’ve been the victory that secured the club its first post-season appearance since the 2003-04 campaign. But while the squad is still technically in the playoff race, reality set in long ago. Despite the stirring triumph, the Leafs remain in 10th place in the Eastern Conference standings, two points behind the Carolina Hurricanes and five points back of the Sabres, with only five games left to play. The odds are so long they’re essentially impossible—but all is not lost for the boys in blue and white. We take a look at three reasons the Leafs’ playoff push is more important than actually making the playoffs.
1. The Leafs’ young guns gained valuable experience
The Leafs’ emerging talents received a crash course in what it’s like to be in a playoff race. They played under pressure and often performed. The experience should give them the confidence to play when it counts and to know just what it takes to turn a post-season dream into reality—both for themselves and for their long-suffering fans.
2. The team forged an identity
Over the course of the Leafs’ run, the players began to believe in their own abilities and the potential of the squad as a whole. James Reimer kicked the team into gear with his upstart play between the pipes; Dion Phaneuf found his old form; Phil Kessel started to score again; and the cadre of young talent proved they have serious potential. At the beginning of the year the Leafs looked like a disjointed crew of individuals, but by the end of the season they were a cohesive hockey club.
3. Leaf Nation has genuine reason for hope
Past playoff bids have been little more than a tease. Time and again the Leafs have flirted with post-season glory, only to disappoint fans by falling just short. But there was a sense of purpose and momentum behind this year’s push. The last-season surge revealed a promising picture of the future for this up-and-coming side. Fans will no doubt be disappointed in the short term—but there are legitimate reasons to believe next year will be different.
• Desperate Leafs still in hunt after thrilling 4-3 win over Sabres [Toronto Star]
• Phaneuf strikes again for Leafs [Globe and Mail]
• Phaneuf gets his swagger back [Globe and Mail]
• Hope already building for next year for the Leafs [Globe and Mail]
• NHL’s sprint to finish sure to be furious [Toronto Sun]
• Leafs stay alive with crucial win vs. Sabres [National Post]