The Chicago Blackhawks did the Toronto Maple Leafs a tremendous favour last night: by beating the Columbus Blue Jackets in regulation, they eliminated one of the Blue Jackets’ critical games-at-hand over the Leafs.
That advantage now stands at a single game. To seize the opportunity, the Leafs will still likely need to win every one of their remaining games this season, but it does give them some room to close gap.
If the Chicago victory had come in overtime, it would have probably meant the end of Toronto’s season. Here some luck finally went the Leafs’ way: Chicago scored the game winner with four seconds left in regulation (talk about cutting it close!).
As it stands, Columbus currently has 85 points while Toronto currently has 84 points in the race for the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Toronto returns to action tonight as they host the Winnipeg Jets at the Air Canada Centre. After this, they hit the road for three games to close the regular season, visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning, Florida Panthers and Ottawa Senators. These are all teams that they can beat though the Lightning can be expected to put up a strong fight.
For Columbus, the close of the regular season seems a bit more difficult. They face the New York Islanders and Phoenix Coyotes at Nationwide Arena before hitting the road to visit the Dallas Stars, Lightning and Panthers. What makes this set of games potentially difficult is the fact that four of them will be played in back-to-back situations – Columbus has gone 12-14 so far this season in such situations.
Having swept their season series against Toronto, Columbus has some room for error, but they certainly cannot afford to go .500 down the stretch. Realistically, they must win at least three of their final five games (and hope that the Leafs don’t go on a perfect or near perfect run) to reach the playoffs.
On the other hand, Toronto essentially has to run the table if they want to avoid a tiebreaker situation with Columbus.
Nonetheless, as the old adage says, it’s best to focus on the task at hand and here Toronto will want to take Winnipeg seriously. None of this will matter if the Leafs fall tonight and Chicago’s last-minute heroics will go to waste.
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