Toronto Maple Leafs: 5 Games the Leafs Must Win to Make the Playoffs
Currently, the Leafs are sitting in what seems to be a distant 12th in the Eastern Conference, having to pass four teams to get in the playoffs. However, in reality, the difference between the Leafs and the eighth-placed Jets is only a mere three points.
If the Florida Panthers have proven anything this season, it's that anything can happen. If a perennial bottom feeder can rise to third in the conference, the Leafs can overcome a three-point margin.
With a new coach in Randy Carlyle and 17 remaining games to be played, here are the five games the Leafs must win to have a shot at the postseason.
March 6th, vs. Boston Bruins
While many games on this list will be against teams the Leafs must beat in the race for the postseason, this is not one of them.
With 79 points and sitting pretty at second in the conference, the Boston Bruins feel comfortable with their postseason chances. Leafs Nation on the other hand, not so much.
Defeating the Bruins in this game is important for sentimental value, if nothing else. Yes, the extra two points would greatly help the Leafs, but this is not a make-or-break game.
In this season's previous four meetings, the Bruins have drubbed the Leafs in each game. Another bad loss could bring the Leafs back to their pre-Ron Wilson firing mindset.
If the Buds can squeak out a victory in this one, they will have a newfound hope for the rest of the season.
March 11th, vs. Washington Capitals
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In this game, the Leafs are hoping to avoid what happened in the picture above, plain and simple.
With Washington currently in ninth place in the conference and ahead of the Leafs by only two points, this game is of paramount importance. If the Leafs win this game it would eliminate the current difference in points and bring the Leafs closer to the coveted eighth playoff spot.
At this point in the season, potentially falling more than two or three games back of a playoff spot can be a backbreaker. It's something the Leafs must avoid.
By beating the Caps.
March 15th, vs. Tampa Bay Lightning
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Another team currently ahead of the Leafs is the Tampa Bay Lightning. If I told you this a few months ago, when the Lightning couldn't beat anyone, you would have laughed at me.
Today is a different story. The Lightning, riding Steve Stamkos' hot streak are now very much alive in the playoff hunt. Sitting only two points out of eighth place, the playoffs are very much a realistic possibility.
This game is played in the middle of March. The significance of this is that we will know much more about these team's playoff chances when this game is actually played. This could be the difference between the Leafs being in eighth or ninth place.
Who knows, Toronto could already be in playoff contention by this time. They could also still be in 12th place.
We'll have to see.
March 31st, vs. Buffalo Sabres
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Another team who began the season with sky-high expectations and to this point has failed to deliver, is the Buffalo Sabres.
Similar to the Lightning, they are one point above the Leafs in the standings and this game could be the difference between one team going to the playoffs and the other playing golf in April, something the Leafs have plenty of practice doing.
After the Sabres' big acquisition of Cody Hodgson, Buffalo has won three straight and pose a big threat to the Leafs' playoffs chances. There is a large possibility that only one of these two teams will make the playoffs.
This game may decide that.
April 12th, vs. Montreal Canadiens
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This is the last game of the season.
It could be the most important game. It could not matter at all.
And it's against the hated Montreal Canadians. Could Leafs fans ask for anything more?
Playoffs? Oh ya, forgot about those.
This could very well be the deciding game to the Leafs' season. Like many NHL years, there is one game where a team is faced with an ultimatum:
Win or go home.
Last year it was the Dallas Stars with this golden opportunity, and they failed. Leafs fans are hoping that their team is extended this same chance.
Doing it while beating Montreal would be the cherry on top. Losing would devastate the city and the team.
As if this game needs more hype than it already has.