Toronto Maple Leafs: The Numbers Behind a Miracle Playoff Run

Brian LangenContributor IMarch 30, 2011

TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 19  James Reimer #34 and Nazem Kadri #43 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrate 5-2 win over the Boston Bruins during game action at the Air Canada Centre March 19, 2011 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Abelimages/Getty Images)
Abelimages/Getty Images

The fat lady hasn’t sung yet, but boy is she ever eager to get up on that stage. 

The Leafs are currently five points behind the eighth-place Buffalo Sabres for the final playoff spot in the East. It’s amazing that I’m even able to write about the Leafs' playoff hopes considering that just a few months ago, on Jan. 1, Toronto found itself 13th in the East and 12 points back of a playoff spot. 

Regardless of how impressive the run is, the Leafs need a minor miracle to sneak into the playoffs.

With five games remaining, winning out would leave the Leafs with 90 points at season’s end (40-32-10). Taking two points from Boston, Ottawa, Washington, New Jersey and Montreal is no easy task either. 

But, just to make things interesting, let’s be liberal and say that since the Leafs are a desperate team, they have a 70 percent chance of winning each game. Therefore, simple statistics tell us that the Leafs have a 16.8 percent chance of going 5-0-0.

Going 5-0-0 won’t help much if the teams above Toronto also take undefeated paths to close out the season. The Leafs need a lot of help from teams not named the Sabres or Hurricanes, which they haven’t exactly been getting lately.

But back to the numbers. Let’s start out with Buffalo.

The Sabres need 91 points to officially knock the Leafs out of a playoff spot, which means the Leafs need Buffalo to go, at best, 2-3-1 in the final six games. 

With games against the Rangers, Capitals, Hurricanes, Lightning, Flyers and Blue Jackets, it’s not exactly an easy schedule. But then again, the Sabres have been one of the hottest teams in the league recently, going 11-4-3 in their past 18 games.

One thing working in the Leafs’ favour (maybe the only thing) is that they are able to win one of their five games in a shootout and still hold the head-to-head tiebreak. It isn’t much, I know, but it’s better than nothing.

Next up: Carolina.

Like Buffalo, the Hurricanes need 91 points to knock the Leafs out of a playoff spot. This means that the Leafs need the Canes to finish 4-2-0 at best.

With games against the Canadiens, Islanders, Sabres, Red Wings, Thrashers and Lightning, the Hurricanes' schedule isn’t exactly an easy one either. The main issue with this schedule is the one game against Buffalo, where one team is guaranteed the two points.

In order for the Leafs to own the tiebreak with Carolina, they would need to win the remainder of their five games in regulation or in overtime. If the Leafs win one in a shootout and the Hurricanes go 4-2-0, then the tiebreak comes down to goal differential (bad news for the Leafs, including Tyler Bozak and his -29 rating).

So optimistically, what are the chances of the Leafs making the playoffs? Well, we’ll take the Leafs’ 16.8 percent chance of going 5-0-0, multiply it by the Sabres' chance of going 2-3-1 or worse (let’s call it 25 percent, they’ve been hot lately), and then multiply that by Carolina’s chance of going 4-2-0 or worse (let’s optimistically call it 65 percent).

And that leaves us with the optimistic probability of the Leafs making the playoffs at 2.73 percent. 

Obviously this is an extremely rough estimate, and I’m pretty sure my high school statistics teacher would cringe if she read this, but all I’m trying to say is that the odds aren’t exactly on the Leafs’ side.

It’s looking like it’s going to be another 82-game season for the Leafs, and hopefully for Tyler Bozak and the majority of the Leafs, their plus/minus rating transfers directly over to their golf game.