In order to reach the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs (a possibility I summarily dismissed here just nine days ago), the Leafs probably need to win 20 of their remaining 27 games. To say that’s a tall order would be an understatement. But, stranger things have happened. And, when I wrote that piece last week, they were 12 points out of eighth. Now they’re just seven back. Here are a few things they’re going to have to do to make it happen.
There are several ways to look at what faces Ron Wilson’s squad. Basically, they have to win four of every five games they play. That sounds daunting, doesn’t it? They have turned that trick three times this season. They won the season’s first four games, then they won four of five surrounding their January western road trip. And they did it this past week. It can be done.
I like the fact that Brian Burke made the Beauchemin/Lupul move. It tells his guys that the towel hasn’t been thrown in yet. It’s very important for players to get that message from their GM. Of their remaining 27, twelve are at Air Canada Centre, 15 are on the road. And, of the 27, just six are against teams they they’d have to climb over to reach the postseason (FLA 1, BUF 3, ATL 1 and likely one of CAR 1 or NYR 0). Those three against the tough-for-the-Leafs-to-beat Sabres could be the determiners.
And winning that four-of-five scenario this coming week is going to be ridiculously tough. The Leafs are in Montreal, Boston and Buffalo, then home to Ottawa and the Islanders. Let’s assume Toronto can beat Ottawa and the Islanders. That means they have to garner two wins from Montreal, Boston and Buffalo. It is a massive mountain.
There’s only one thing that’s made this concept even possible in Toronto…and he wears number 34. If the Leafs do reach the postseason, the sole reason will be James Reimer. He’s won six of his eleven NHL starts with a superb .930 save percentage and one shutout. The late-in-overtime goal he allowed New Jersey’s Ilya Kovalchuk on Thursday night was a tough one to give up. It may have cost the Leafs a crucial point.
No matter. All eyes will be on Reimer over the remaining two months of this NHL season. Can he continue to lead his team in from the wilderness? Based on his fairly relaxed personality and on-ice confidence, it’s certainly possible. I realize Reimer won’t play every one of those 27 games but, if I’m standing where Ron Wilson is, I play him a lot.
What if Phil Kessel regains his goal-scoring touch? What if Joffrey Lupul provides a huge influx of energy? What if Mikhail Grabovski goes on another scoring tear? Now, it’s definitely possible.
But this coming week will tell a lot. Even Saturday in Montreal, on Hockey Day in Canada, the Leafs can start it off right…or come stumbling out of the blocks. Either way, all eyes are squarely on James Reimer and what he’s brought to the team since just before Christmas.