6 Most Important Games Remaining on the Maple Leafs' Schedule
The halfway point of the Toronto Maple leafs' schedule is in the rear view and it doesn't get any easier for the team that currently sits tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Leafs played everyone in the conference at least once and every game is important in this year's sprint to make the playoffs.
All expectations aside, reality and the present say that a playoff spot is there for the Leafs to lose with many teams expected to make the dance. If the Leafs prefer to look up and strive for bigger things, they have to make some statements against teams who have so far had their number.
Here are six of the most important games on the remainder of the Leafs' schedule.
6. Winnipeg Jets: March 16th in Toronto
It will be nice if the Leafs can put the Jets in the rear view for good come March 16th at home.
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The Jets are only five points behind the Leafs and may get even closer after they play each other in Winnipeg tonight. The Leafs won the first meeting in Winnipeg and could already take the season series tonight, but the head-to-head success is only a part of the bigger picture between these two teams.
I think the Jets will be battling for a playoff spot right down to the wire, but the question still remains whether the Leafs will be clear of that battle.
They will play each other again next Saturday night in Toronto, and it could be a huge opportunity for the Leafs to vanquish the Jets for good and worry about bigger problems.
5. New York Rangers: April 8th in Toronto
The Leafs may be on a collision course with Lundqvist and the Rangers.
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The Leafs lost in Madison Square Garden in their first meeting and will get a chance at revenge in early April. The Leafs need to establish that they can conquer King Henrik Lundqvist, especially at home if they want to go into a postseason series in the right frame of mind.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins: March 14th in Toronto
If the Leafs really want to be taken seriously as playoff contenders, they need to shut down Crosby in their final meeting on March 14th.
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The rubber match of the series will be played this week in Toronto, and the Leafs must show that the win they got against them early in the season was indeed no fluke. They should use this game as a true test to see if they can clamp down and limit the potent Penguins offense to two goals or less and get a real playoff-style win against one of the real frontrunners for the Cup.
3. Ottawa Senators: April 20th in Ottawa
The Leafs and Senators have been battling toe to toe all season, and could be destined to meet in the dance.
The Battle of Ontario has been re-ignited in more ways than one this season and the division and provincial rivals will meet two more times this year. The Leafs lead the season series 2-1, but the two teams are tied with 31 points overall.
Both teams have had success despite some injury adversity and some feel the Senators are destined for a fall in the remainder of the season. Their last meeting will be in the final week of the season and will likely be pivotal in their playoff push.
2. Montreal Canadiens: April 27th in Toronto
The Canadiens are at the top of the conference and the Leafs are in the driver's seat to take the season series.
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The Montreal Canadiens have been the surprise of the season so far and sit at the very top of the Eastern Conference standings. The Leafs have played them three times and beaten them twice already, with one of the wins coming in dominant fashion.
They face each other two more times with the final meeting coming in the last game of the season in Toronto. The Leafs may be jockeying for position or battling for their playoff lives, but either way, something big will be on the line and this game will be one of the most important of the year.
1. Boston Bruins: March 25th in Boston
The road to the Stanley Cup goes directly through Boston and they are the only conference foe the Leafs have not beaten yet this season.
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All Phil Kessel history and drama aside, the Boston Bruins have truly been the Maple Leafs' nemesis for the past few seasons, and a stick that the Leafs wish to measure up to in the very near future.
They have lost to the Bruins twice already this year and only have two more chances to show the physical group from Beantown that they can battle and beat them in every facet on the ice.
The Leafs showed better determination in their second meeting, but they still came out with nothing for their efforts. This game in Boston marks the last time these two teams will meet this season, and the Leafs need to slay this beast to prove that they have the goods to beat any team in the East heading into the playoffs.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report NHL Toronto Maple Leafs and a featured columnist with Bleacher Report UFC.
Follow him on Twitter at wakafightermma.