March 22 2011 11:23AM
Whether or not you believe the Toronto Maple Leafs can make the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs, it is a fact that they have no more wiggle room left. With nine games remaining, they would have to pass both Carolina (two points ahead, one game in hand) and Buffalo (five points ahead, one game in hand). The Leafs have 74 points. If they win out, they would finish with 92...probably barely enough to make. Tonight, in Minnesota, it truly is back-up-against-the-wall time.
Toronto's good fortune is that, in Minnesota, the Wild are not in playoff contention in the west. Their hopes have faded. They won't make it. There's no fight left in that dog. And that opens the door for Luke "Bobby Orr" Schenn and Dion Phaneuf to again put their defensive greatness on display. Let's face it, other than Phaneuf putting the puck into his own net v. Boston, the pair have been good as gold in this stretch run. Add James Reimer into the mix, and preventing goals really have not been an issue.
Frankly, what's surprised me over the past month-and-a-half is the Leafs' lack of offence. Phil Kessel - non-existent. Two goals in March. Mikhail Grabovski - non-existent. Completely pointless in his last four games. Three goals in March. One off his head. Dion Phaneuf has more goals this month than both those guys. That is plainly not right. Nik Kulemin's done his job. But the rest of the big guns have not. Ultimately, if the Leafs fail to achieve their long-shot postseason goal, all fingers will point to the guys up front.
Tyler Bozak continues to confound. Tons of ice time. No scoring whatsoever. Maybe the worst Leafs' forward sophomore jinx ever. The secondary scoring was in full force against the Bruins on Saturday, but that's not a reliable solution. And it's certainly not a solution that sees the Leafs racking up wins down the stretch.
Oh, make no mistake, the last twenty games have been a blast. Lots of fun to watch and providing renewed hope across the Leafs Nation. But if Kessel and Grabovski don't start scoring - like, now - any hope the Leafs have ends in St. Paul.