There are only 18 games remaining in the Toronto Maple Leafs’ schedule, and with a record of 33-23-8, the chances are fairly good that the they could make the playoffs cruising at .500 for the remainder of the season.
Of course, this would probably hurt their place in the standings (they currently sit fourth overall in the Eastern Conference) and no one wants to enter the playoffs on a losing note, but it’s significant in the sense that Toronto’s playoff hopes were once the subject of laughter throughout the hockey world.
Toronto made a strong attempt to reverse its reputation for mediocrity last season, reaching the playoffs for the first time in eight seasons. Although outmatched in terms of muscle, skill and depth in net, the Leafs were able to go the distance against the heavily favoured Boston Bruins. We all know how Game 7 of that first-round matchup concluded, but it showed that the Leafs were on the brink of something special.
If the current standings hold, the Leafs will enter this season’s playoffs one higher in the standings than last time. This might not seem like anything significant, but a fourth-place finish would pit Toronto against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. Given all the recent changes in Tampa Bay, that matchup should favour the Leafs.
The standings will likely shift several times before the season ends, but two things appear almost certain: 1) the Leafs are playing better hockey this season; and 2) they’ll likely avoid Boston in the first round of playoff action.
If all this holds true, it means that I may still be watching hockey in late May. With expectations already set low for the Toronto Blue Jays this year, it’s good to know that there will be something sports-related and Toronto-centered worthwhile on TV until the bright days of summer hit.
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