Toronto has 18 games remaining in its schedule and the vast majority of them are against teams that are battling for a playoff spot in the jam-packed lower portion of the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
Toronto is not going to make the playoffs, that’s a given. Even if the Leafs went undefeated for the rest of the season they would still only end up with 88 points, which wouldn’t be good enough in all likely-hood.
Thus, the Blue and White are now relegated to the role of spoiler. A role this young team with many players vying for roster spots next season should relish and embrace whole-heartedly.
Toronto plays six games within their Northeast division: Buffalo and Ottawa once more each, and though both these teams seem fairly embedded in the playoff picture, Toronto can still set the tone for next season and send a message with physical play. The Leafs did just that against Ottawa Saturday night in a heated battle that was decided on a shootout. And when the smoke cleared, the Buds stood victorious, 2-1.
Toronto plays Boston and Montreal twice, and both these teams need every point they can muster if they want to make it to the show. Toronto has played spirited and close games against both teams already this year. And the Leafs would love to be the dagger in the heart that keeps Boston and Montreal out of the playoffs.
Perhaps most importantly, the last game of the year sees Toronto traveling to Montreal. The Buds may have an opportunity to plunge that dagger into the heart of their most hated foe, since the Canadiens may need a win that day to make the playoffs.
Against arguably the strongest division in the Eastern Conference, the Atlantic division, the Buds play seven games. Three of these games are of no real consequence, as Pittsburgh and New Jersey are pretty much shoe-ins and the Islanders are a shoe-out.
Four games, two against the Rangers, and two against the Flyers (one of which is tonight) could be difference-makers. Both teams are in a precarious position. The Rangers are out of the playoff picture right now but could sneak in with a good run. Philly is in right now, but could easily slide from the picture.
Four games are against the weak (aside from the juggernaut Washington Capitals) Southeast Conference. Toronto plays the Ilya Kovalchuk-less Atlanta Thrashers twice, who sit just out of the playoffs. And the Buds could help nail that coffin shut.
Toronto gets one more crack at the Lightening, who still have an outside shot, and one more game against the Florida Panthers, who may have had their claws clipped already.
The lone game left is against the last place lowly Edmonton Oilers and is a battle of the bottom-dwellers. But you can bet both teams will still give 110 percent as again the players on both sides are fighting for roster spots on their respective clubs for next season.
The hockey left to be played for the Toronto Maple Leafs has many implications for both them and their opponents. So don’t tune out! It’s going to be a hell of a ride in the spoiler role!