After safely holding a playoff position for the majority of the season, the Toronto Maple Leafs now find themselves on the very edge of the playoff bubble – part of an awkward, deadly four-way tie for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
They are joined here by the Columbus Blue Jackets, Detroit Red Wings and Washington Capitals.
At the moment, the advantage goes to Columbus, who’s played the fewest games of the bunch while Washington is arguably the hottest of the four teams going into the final stretch run of the season (Jaroslav Halak has been a great acquisition for them).
The Leafs’ cause was helped somewhat last night when the Montreal Canadiens beat the Red Wings in Detroit. Nonetheless, it’s not enough to rely on the performances (good or bad) of other teams – Toronto needs to take charge of its own destiny at some point.
Hopefully, that’ll begin tonight when the Leafs visit Philadelphia to conclude their season series with the Flyers. A win tonight would see Toronto sweep the series and keep their increasingly remote playoff chances alive. The real test, however, will happen on Saturday when Detroit visits the Air Canada Centre: this is a game that the Leafs cannot afford to lose.
Heading into the final stretch, Toronto is unlikely to reinvent the wheel. Their defence is porous and this won’t change over the coming weeks. They’re not a great cycle team either. Instead, they’ll have to bank on the rush play and pray to God that Jonathan Bernier can pull another few rabbits out of his hat. Beyond this, Lady Luck might owe them a favour or two.
It’s not an enviable situation, but that’s reality. If the Leafs want to avoid another late-season collapse, they’ll have to focus on what has worked this season while acknowledging what hasn’t worked. In other words, they must play to their strengths, which means Leafs fans can expect an entertaining, but nerve-wracking finish to the season.
Follow me on Twitter for regular posts about sports (especially the Toronto Maple Leafs), politics and other news topics: @williamefwilson