The Toronto Maple Leafs have been one of the hottest teams in the NHL since the All-Star break, and while they aren't in the New Jersey category in the last 10 games of nine wins and one loss, going 5-1-4 is pretty good too.
All of the negativity surrounding the Leafs seems to have evaporated. No one thinks Phil Kessel is a bum, the calls for Ron Wilson's head are little more than a distant memory and Brian Burke is once again firmly ensconced in the upper echelon of NHL general managers and appears to have known what he was doing all along.
It's true—winning cures everything.
The injury-riddled Pittsburgh Penguins roll into the ACC to face the surging Leafs tomorrow night and should be easy fodder for the boys in blue, but if we've learned anything from the 6-5 shootout loss over the weekend at the hands of these very same Penguins, this team is not without ability just because Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin aren't playing.
The Carolina Hurricanes—who remain four points up on the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Atlanta Thrashers for the eighth and final playoff seed in the Eastern Conference, remember—will certainly be watching the Leafs as they climb closer in the standings.
The Hurricanes know full well what this young Toronto Maple Leafs team is capable of, and though they have been inconsistent on some occasions, the convincing 3-0 win that the Leafs posted against the 'Canes early in February will not be forgotten when the teams meet again in a couple of weeks.
In light of Brian Burke's lack of activity yesterday at the trade deadline, the Toronto Maple Leafs as constructed hold their own fate in their hands. Burke stated last week that he didn't want to make a move that would vault his team into the playoffs only to "get their asses kicked in the first round," but if last year's playoffs were any indication of what can happen in the postseason, there is no reason to believe that would happen anyway.
This is currently a team on the rise, though people will say that they do this type of thing every year.
The Leafs still have some work to do. Though Kessel is on a hot streak as of late, he seems to be the only one. The Leafs have got to find some way to be consistent in the offensive zone if they have any hope of making it to the postseason, and rookie netminder James Reimer has at times recently appeared a little more human than superhuman.
That in and of itself is a disturbing trend.
Nevertheless, the Toronto Maple Leafs are a good team. They are still three players and some luck away from being considered any kind of real threat for the most part, but they are a good team with a brighter future than they've had in a very long time.