In spite of all the negative attention surrounding the Leafs lately, I thought I'd take a different angle and -- god forbid -- take a look to the future of a possible playoff berth. While the Leafs have their work cut out for them, it’s not impossible for them to attain post-season play. While it may seem improbable considering the teams they must leapfrog, the recent play of the Buds suggests they got the heart to overcome such odds.
What stands between the Leafs and 8th place are the Florida Panthers, Buffalo Sabres,
Washington Capitals, and last but not least, the Boston Bruins. In order for the Leafs to be considered serious contenders for the dubious position, they would have to win atleast 5 of their last 6 games, garnering 10 pts out of a possible 12. But even that might not be enough, most likely putting them in the placing their all too familiar with, the dreaded 9th place.
However, the Leafs will need to play at their absolute best, and while their recent play without Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov has been impressive, they will need to withstand the upcoming schedule without the pair for a little longer. Consistency will be key here, something the Leafs have struggled with all season long. A huge part to their recent upswing as been the emergence of Matt Stajan and Alexander Steen, the two have displayed strong leadership for the Buds, and have produced points consistently in the past few weeks. But with the upcoming double-header against the Bruins, the pair will have to solidify themselves as the team’s leaders if the Leafs wish to even flirt with a possible playoff berth.
With all that said, let's assume the Leafs do make the playoffs. What are the possible team's they would face? Is it possible to advance to the 2nd round against any of these foes? The answer is yes. Here's your preview:
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
Season Series: 2-2
When I think of this potential playoff match, goals are what instantly come to mind. The emergence of Evgeni Malkin in the absence of Sidney Crosby has been beyond impressive. The kid has established himself as a true first line winger and franchise player for the Pens. Once "Sid The Kid" returns from his injury, you can bet these two will be causing loads of havoc on the powerplay, and head coach Micheal Therrien will be looking to give Malkin the same kind of ice-time he's receiving now. While the Leafs can handle faster teams more efficiently this season, I highly doubt they would be able to contain their offense for an entire series. While goaltender Vesa Toskala has been great for the Leafs, his durability is still a concern considering his career high in games played was 38 before this season.
Outcome: Pens in 5 games
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. New Jersey Devils
Season Series: 4-0 Devils
If the Leafs were to enter the playoffs facing the Devils, I’d bet it would end much like the season series. The Devils play trap hockey, and magnificent goaltending from Martin Brodeur helps them perfect the style of play. The Leafs offense is anything but explosive and their defense has been mediocre for most of the season. Their only prayer would lie with Toskala, and that would be quite the challenge for the 31-year old netminder, who's played game after game for the Buds this season.
Outcome: Devils in 5 games
Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Montreal Canadiens
Season Series: 3-3 as of now
What a treat this would be, the two most passionate fan bases colliding for post-season supremacy. Whether you hate the Habs or the Leafs, we must all respect the rivalry that has evolved between these two ever since the league began in 1916. With this particular series, it doesn't matter what place both teams finish, because both clubs always play above their heads when they meet up at centre-ice --especially the Leafs. Both clubs have enjoyed great goaltending this season, but the Habs have something special in Carey Price. The 20-year old netminder will be the go-to guy going into the playoffs, and those who have watched him know that he is capable of handling his own. While the Habs have a young team, they have no shortage of leadership with the likes of Saku Koivu and Alexei Kovalev leading the charge. The key to this series would be physical play, and strong puck movement. One thing is for certain, however, if the Leafs are to beat the Habs in the playoffs, it would definitely require a healthy Mats Sundin.
Outcome: Leafs in 7 games
As you may have noticed, I did not add the Ottawa Senators to possible playoff opponents. This is due to the fact that they are now 7 points behind 1st place, and I find it highly improbable that they attain the position. But, barring a miracle, it would be an instant classic to see the Leafs and Sens gear up for another round of playoff battle.
With all that said, this could all be for not if the Leafs don't win their upcoming games. It starts tonight with the Boston Bruins.