The 5 Biggest Questions for Toronto Maple Leafs in the Home Stretch in 2013-14
The Toronto Maple Leafs have just four regular-season games left on their schedule. They remain on the outside of the top eight in the race to make the playoffs. Their odds to play in the NHL's second season are not good at just 13.5 percent currently.
The Leafs did defeat the Boston Bruins in their most recent game with second-line centre Nazem Kadri potting the OT winner.
As the Leafs get ready to play their final four games, here are the five biggest questions as they hit the home stretch in the 2013-14 regular season.
5. Joffrey Lupul's Health
The Leafs have not had a lot of secondary scoring, so it is a blow to have Lupul out of the lineup. The Leafs are going to have to win their final four games to give themselves a chance to make the playoffs.
The club needs Lupul back as soon as possible, and his health is a huge question mark. A healthy Lupul could be a difference-maker.
4. Can David Clarkson Contribute Offensively?
David Clarkson has had an abysmal year offensively. With just 11 points and a minus-14 rating, Clarkson has not been the depth scorer that the Leafs had hoped he would be.
With Joffrey Lupul potentially out for a while and David Bolland still getting into top shape, now would be the time for Clarkson to step it up offensively.
If Clarkson can earn at least a point per game over these final four games, the Leafs might find the success they desperately need.
3. Can Dion Phaneuf Lead This Team in Need?
As the season winds down, the Leafs need captain Dion Phaneuf to play his best hockey. He has to lead from the front and give his team his best defensive efforts in these final games.
Phaneuf has had to play against some of the stiffest quality of competition in the league this year. He's going to be challenged to do this in the next four games, and he has to deliver defensively.
With the season in the balance, the Leafs No. 1 defender could be decisive in determining the Leafs' fate.
2. Can Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly Handle the Pressure?
Jake Gardiner and Morgan Rielly are going to play some big minutes as the season winds down. While Gardiner has some NHL experience with this, Rielly is about to play the biggest games of his young pro career.
Gardiner and Rielly are likely cornerstones on the Toronto defense in the years ahead, so these types of meaningful games are great for them.
If this duo can continue to play well beyond their years, the Leafs will be in a good place. If these two falter, Leaf fans could have a longer offseason than any of them want.
1. Can James Reimer Be Great?
Jonathan Bernier is out for the rest of the regular season. James Reimer is the No. 1 goalie for the next four games, whether the Leafs want him to be or not.
Reimer was solid in relief against the Bruins, and the Leafs need him to duplicate that stinginess to close the season.
If Reimer can play some inspired hockey, the Leafs may be able to defy the odds and make the playoffs for consecutive seasons.
All stats can be found on NHL.com unless otherwise noted.