It may be too simple a concept, but taking one game at a time and not focusing on anything else—such as making the playoffs or winning a Stanley Cup—is what enables a team to play its best.
With every win, the Leafs pull off down the stretch, one reads how the players are just trying to focus on the next game and not look at the numbers. Indeed, the numbers might scare the bejeezus out of them. The Leafs need to overtake a total of four teams and make up six points in order to make the playoffs with only 13 games left.
In the pressure cooker of Toronto, the media does a fine job of distracting players all season long with expectations about the playoffs and winning the Cup. It's no wonder that this team has been unable to focus on the game at hand. Instead, they were running around thinking about whether or not they would get in the playoffs all season.
While they were doing that, they played like a bunch of complete underachievers, making bad plays left and right. Now, with their minds on the game, they seem to be believing in themselves, and actually playing up to their potential.
To me, this is where Maurice fails as a coach. Reading in the Toronto papers lately about his obsession checking scores and stats shows that he is not leading by example.
He is the one that needs to keep the players motivated the right way. He is the one that needs to make sure players block out everything else and just focus on the game at hand.
He could take a page from Sam Mitchell's playbook. There is a man who is 100 percent committed to the idea of playing one game at a time and focusing only on that one game, that one night, that one play. Everything else will take care of itself. A focus on maintaining this mentality needed to be here all season long.
We are now witnessing a Toronto team that has no choice but to not look at the standings and think about that dismal moment in the future when yet another season of missing the playoffs is confirmed. The overwhelming odds are that it's too little too late.
That being said, all four teams immediately ahead of them in the race have hardly risen to the challenge. They have all played .500 hockey or worse over the past ten games. Only the Leafs appear to be on something of a roll. The home stretch is still a horse race, and the Leafs are the darkest of the bunch.