The 10 Most Important Games Remaining for the Maple Leafs
It's hard to say that any one game is more important than another for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. The Leafs are currently in a battle for the eighth and final playoff spot, with a chance at moving up in the standings with every passing game.
Every game matters a little bit more than the last and for a team that needs to continue to play well in order to make the postseason, it almost puts them in a situation where every time they step on the ice, it’s a must-win game.
The fans know it, the players know it, and you better believe Ron Wilson knows it.
But there are some games that stand out from the others as crucial to the team's success. There are certain matchups that may be key, a certain time when a game is played that gives it extra incentive, or simply a game that from this vantage point, looks vital to how the Leafs season turns out.
When the clock hits 12:00 on January 1, 2010, the Leafs will begin the unofficial second half to their season. In a season that once looked terribly bleak, they've fought their way back into contention, which could result in a playoff berth for the first time since 2004.
Here are the top 10 most important games remaining for the Leafs in 2010.
At the Calgary Flames: Jan. 2, 2010
Let’s face it, it's always nice to win the first game of the New Year. The Leafs will have the dubious task of playing in front of the boisterous Pengrowth Saddledome crowd in Calgary on Jan. 2. It will be the final game of a three-game road trip that will see them stop in Pittsburgh and Edmonton prior to this matchup.
Having to spend New Years Eve away from their families in the frigid cold of Western Canada may not be ideal for this Leafs team, but they have been successful away from home this season, and owe the Flames a hard-fought battle after Iginla and boys came into Toronto and roughed up the Leafs 5-2 on Nov. 14.
To start off the New Year with a win of any kind against Calgary on the road would be a huge boost of confidence, and will most likely be the determining factor as to whether the three-game trip was a success or not.
It’s never an easy task to beat the tough, defensive Flames, who will just as easily beat you up, before they beat you. If the Leafs can handle the physical play and find a way to beat Mikka Kiprusoff, it could be one of the most impressive wins of the season for the club.
At the Washington Capitals: Jan. 15, 2010
The Capitals are currently the best team in the Eastern Conference and they are always an incredibly tough team to play against. It will be the fourth and final time this season the Leafs will play Ovie and the Caps, and it will be the most important of the four.
This game will mark the first in a five-game road trip for the Leafs that will see them stop in Nashville, Atlanta, Tampa Bay, and Florida following their stop in the nation's capital.
Because it's the first game of the trip it will be important for the Leafs to get off to a good start, especially when facing such a formidable opponent.
It’s also a great test for whichever goaltender is playing, as they'll undoubtedly have to face a barrage of shots from three of the leagues most potent offensive stars in Ovechkin, Niklas Backstrom, and Alex Semin.
Toronto has been excellent against the Caps in their first three meetings, going 2-1-0 so far; their last meeting was a convincing 6-3 win at the ACC.
If the Leafs can walk out of DC with a win and a 3-1 season record against one of the best teams in the NHL, they will no doubt feel very good going into the rest of their games on the trip.
New Jersey Devils: Jan. 29, Feb. 2, Feb.5, 2010
After this span of games, the Leafs and Devils will most assuredly be sick of one another. The two teams will play each other three times in eight days, which could be a major turning point in the Leafs' season.
If they can't hang with the powerful Devils and lose two or three of the games, it could be extremely detrimental to their playoff chances. Unfortunately, two of the three games are in New Jersey, and playing Brodeur at home is never easy.
Actually, if there's an easy place to play Brodeur, no one has ever found it.
The Leafs will be home to the Vancouver Canucks Jan. 30, so they will have a one-game break from their frequent foes, but it will feel somewhat like a mini playoff series with the Devils, who have been sitting at or near the top of the standings for the majority of the season.
The Leafs will be hoping Brodeur will have his mind elsewhere (say, the starting job at the Olympics maybe?) but they shouldn't count on it.
Brodeur will be looking to pad his lead as the all-time wins and shutouts leader for goaltenders.
Not the kind of records the Leafs want to be apart of this season.
At the St. Louis Blues: Feb. 12, 2010
This game in St. Louis will mark the final game before the Olympic break. They will not play again until March 2, so it will be important to get a win, or they will have to wait almost three weeks thinking about their last loss.
Surprisingly, after this game is played, the Leafs will only have one more game against a Western Conference team (the Oilers, in March). Other than that, it’s all Eastern teams.
This game might be tough for some of the Leaf players who will have been chosen to represent their respective countries in Vancouver, and may be looking ahead with excitement to their chance at Olympic Gold.
They only have five games in February, but they are all tough ones. Two games against Martin Brodeur and the New Jersey Devils, followed by another installment of the battle of Ontario, before hosting the West leading San Jose Sharks.
It will end with the rare visit to St. Louis. Hopefully the Leafs can pick up some momentum heading into the break.
Carolina Hurricanes: Mar. 2, 2010
You guessed it; the next "most important game" for the Leafs is the first one back from the Olympic break. It will have been almost 20 days since they last played a game and could be a sloppy one as both teams try to get back in the grove of things.
It is always important to get off to a good start, and this game will be no different, as the Leafs will be looking to get a win in the first game of the final stretch of the regular season.
A lot will happen between then and now, but it could be especially important depending on where the team sits in the standings. Either fighting for their playoff position or battling for that final playoff spot; this game could be the start of an excellent final run down the home stretch.
Edmonton Oilers: Mar. 13, 2010
It will mark the return of the man who had the most success as a head coach with the Leafs in recent history. From 1998-2006, Quinn posted 300 wins, which trails only Punch Imlach for most wins as the Leafs' head coach.
The team made the playoffs six out of the seven seasons he was there, including two trips to the Conference Finals.
Quinn was also the Leafs GM until 2005. John Ferguson Jr. then came in to replace him, and then turn around and fire the older, more experienced Quinn just a year later (don't get me started on that one).
The man famously known for his vigorous gum-chewing and expletive-filled rants with the refs was one of the best coaches the Leafs have ever had and since his departure the Leafs haven't been in the playoffs, nor have they been anywhere as close as competitive as when Quinn was at the helm.
The tough-as-nails coach will always be remembered for coaching a string of games sporting not one, but two black eyes from separate events on the bench. The man was one of a kind in Toronto.
Who knows where this team would be if Quinn had been able to stick around for a few more seasons, but one thing is for sure, the man deserves a standing ovation when he steps out onto the opposing bench for the first time.
He was blue and white through and through and the city of Toronto loved everything about him. It’s great to see him back behind the bench in the NHL, and it will be great to see him chewing his gum in the ACC once again.
At the Ottawa Senators: Mar. 16, 2010
The final "Battle of Ontario" of the regular season is always a heated affair, and this one should be no different. The rivalry was thought to be dead coming into this campaign, but the games so far have proven that though the players have changed and the hatred still remains.
How the Leafs do against the Sens will no doubt affect the playoff standings for each team. The 12 points that are up for grabs in the teams' six games are of the utmost importance, and these will be the final two points up for grabs between them.
It's far too early to say whether we'll finally get to see yet another classic playoff matchup between the Leafs and Sens, but fans across Ontario have been waiting with bated breath for years since their last real battle.
But right now they're only thinking about just getting to the big dance first, they'll let fate worry about who their partners will be.
We can only hope they'll find each other.
At the Pittsburgh Penguins: Mar. 28, 2010
With only seven games remaining in the regular season, the Leafs will travel to Pittsburgh on a Sunday afternoon to face-off against the defending Stanley Cup Champions who will no doubt be gearing up for a third-straight visit to the Finals.
Any win at this time of the year will be important for the Leafs, but this one especially because of who the opponent will be. If the Leafs want to go anywhere once the regular season is over, they'll have to prove they can beat teams that are significantly better than them.
Pittsburgh will offer them that challenge, and if they can win the game, they should gain the confidence they need to make a final push in their last six games.
Fans hope Crosby and Co. will be on cruise control by this point.
Four Game Home Stand: Mar. 30-Apr. 6, 2010
The final four home games of the season for the Leafs will be an excellent chance to go on a winning streak that could take them right to the playoffs. They will play the Thrashers, Sabres, Bruins, and Flyers on the home stand, before playing their final two games of the season on the road.
If there was ever a time for the Leafs to show they can win at home, these four games will be it. Over the past few seasons—okay, since Pat Quinn left—the Leafs have been pitiful on their home ice, but if things are to change, they need to go out with a bang at the ACC.
If they do so, and win at least the majority of the tough games left on the docket, they could be opening the building for a home playoff game for the first time since 2004.
It is a home game that fans have been waiting for a long time to see.
At Montreal Canadiens: Apr. 10, 2010
It's the final game of the regular season.
Saturday night on Hockey Night in Canada.
It doesn't get any better than that.
Just a few years ago, it came down to this very matchup in a game that should have seen the winner go to the playoffs. The Leafs won the game, but due to a shootout victory by the New Jersey Devils, they didn't make the postseason.
This year could see similar circumstances, with similar stakes up for grabs in a game that could decide the season for both teams. Right now, both teams would be out of the playoffs, but both are only a few points out of that eighth spot.
This game could be the single most watched game of the season for both teams if they're battling neck-and-neck for a chance at the Stanley Cup.
It's far too early to tell how each teams' season will look in April, but a small part of every fan wants to see this one game decide the teams fates, or heck, maybe even this game will be the deciding factor that has the Leafs and Habs meet up in the first round of the playoffs.
But now I’m just getting greedy.