After three straight losses, some might be doubting whether the Toronto Maple Leafs can make the playoffs this year at all, much less the second round.
Despite their inconsistency, make no mistake—these Leafs are a playoff team. Failure to make the playoffs this season would require a monumental meltdown.
So how far can they go with their current roster?
For argument's sake, let's pretend the Leafs will finish between sixth and eighth in the conference.
The current top six teams in the conference are: the New York Rangers, the Boston Bruins, the Florida Panthers, the Philadelphia Flyers, the Pittsburgh Penguins and the New Jersey Devils. The Panthers could easily be replaced by the ninth place Washington Capitals, who are only trailing them by two points.
Those are the seven teams that the Leafs could potentially face in the first round of the playoffs.
If the Leafs face the Bruins in the first round, well...there's always next year.
Against any of the other six teams, however, the Leafs have a fighting chance.
They've handed two regulation losses to the Rangers at MSG, so they won't be intimidated by the crowd there. They've pretty much dominated the Penguins this season and would have swept them up until now had they not had a third period meltdown in one of the games.
Their records against the other teams this year are average at best.
Call me an optimist, but when the Leafs play inspired hockey (as they very well should if they bring playoff hockey to Toronto for the first time in eight years), they can tangle with the best the league has to offer (excluding the Boston Bruins). With their current roster, the Leafs at least have an outside chance of making it past the first round.
If general manager Brian Burke decides to make a trade before February 27th, their odds will definitely increase.