Toronto Maple Leafs: Can They Make the Playoffs? The Month of March Will Decide

Jeff Langridge@@JeffLangridge1Correspondent IIIMarch 2, 2011

ATLANTA, GA - FEBRUARY 27:  Phil Kessel #81 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates his goal against the Atlanta Thrashers with Mike Komisarek #9, Brett Lebda #23, Tyler Bozak #42 and Joffrey Lupul #19 at Philips Arena on February 27, 2011 in Atlanta, Georgia.  (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Every hockey fan in Southern Ontario is asking the question. With the Toronto Maple Leafs recent success, can they make the playoffs for the first time since the lockout.

The month of February was very good to the Leafs as they ended the month with a record of 8-2-3. The Leafs will have to carry that success into March if they want any chance of making the playoffs. Making it harder on the Leafs is the fact that the Leafs have a much tougher schedule in March than they did in February.

It all starts this week as they play against three teams that are far above them in the standings. Tonight, they face off against the Pittsburgh Penguins and with the Penguins' stretch of injuries, the Leafs cannot afford to lose as they did this past Saturday. This could be the easiest game of the week as it stands right now.

Tomorrow night they'll take on the Eastern Conference-leading Philadelphia Flyers. The Leafs are 0-2 against the Flyers this season and it would be best for the Leafs playoff hopes if they can eke out a win tomorrow night. They follow that up with a game on Saturday against the defending Stanley Cup champions, the Chicago Blackhawks. While the Blackhawks are not nearly as successful as they were last year, they are fighting tooth and nail for a playoff spot in the Western Conference and won't go down easily.

The Leafs have to come out of this week with a record no worse than 2-1.

Next week starts with a game they should and must win against the New York Islanders, followed up by another game against Philadelphia on Thursday and Buffalo on Saturday. It is imperative that the Leafs win against Buffalo, as they are the only team standing between Toronto and Carolina.

After a home game against Tampa Bay, the Leafs will take on the very same Carolina Hurricanes that we are trying to catch. If they can somehow walk out of those two games with two wins, we will be rewarded with another should-win game against the Florida Panthers.

Saturday, Mar. 19 is a date to circle on your calendars as Tomas Kaberle returns to the Air Canada Center as the Boston Bruins take on the Leafs. It would be nice to show him firsthand that we can win without him.

The week starting with Mar. 20 could very well end up being the easiest week of the month as the Leafs take on the Minnesota Wild and the Colorado Avalanche. That is followed by the yearly matchup against the Detroit Red Wings. They finish up March the next week with games against Buffalo and Boston.

They conclude the regular season in April with games against Ottawa, Washington, New Jersey and Montreal. With 19 games, nine of which are at home, left in the season, there is a bigger chance than most people think for us to make the playoffs.

The games against the Penguins, Islanders, Panthers, Wild, Avalanche, Senators and Devils are should-win games. Games against the Sabres and Hurricanes are must-wins.

That eliminates 11 games and if the Leafs can win those games they will crawl even closer to the playoffs. If they can win at least four of the remaining games, then it could almost be considered a lock that the Leafs will make it. That would mean the Leafs would have a record of 15-4. It might be wishful thinking, but it's also not impossible with the Leafs' recent run.

Only one question remains: Can they?