Earlier this weekend, some of the staff sat down and talked about who we feared the most moving forward. We… never really got around to posting our thoughts, so here they are now. Our question: Who do YOU think is the Leafs’ biggest threat as far as getting an X – before their name?
As much as I like the Hurricanes and want their exciting young core to be seen on a larger stage (seriously, they’re so fun), the Lightning are the only threat remaining. Their 7-3-0 record in their last 10 is worse than Carolina’s 7-0-3, but Tampa has been doing it with injuries to almost all of their top players. They just put up 5 goals on Detroit with Kucherov out of the lineup. Stamkos and Johnson might return this weekend. Combine that with a good coach and a core that knows what it takes to win, and you have the recipe for a legitimate threat to the Leafs.
It’s the obvious answer but also the correct one, Tampa Bay is the most legitimate threat to the Leafs’ playoff chances. The core of the roster is essentially the same as the team who managed a Stanley Cup Final berth not all that long ago, and though injuries have thrown a very large wrench into their playoff plans, it’s one they’re capable (even if unlikely) of overcoming.
Their final 6 games feature a pair of matchups against Montreal, a game each against Dallas, Buffalo and Boston, but most importantly a huge game against the Buds. If they have a hope in heck of making that wildcard spot, they’ll need to win both against their divisional rivals and wish for some major losses. I’m not overly worried about Tampa Bay, but they’re not dead and out until that e- is next to their name in the standings and you can be sure they’ll be fighting tooth and nail until that happens.
The Hurricanes are on fire, but with the Lightning one point up on them with the weapons they have, I’m most concerned about Tampa. They’ve owned the shot share since mid-January and also they have a lot of good players, if you weren’t aware. Nikita Kucherov, Jonathan Drouin and Victor Hedman all have the ability to take over a game and it sounds like Steven Stamkos may return before season’s end. They’re scary. That Leafs v. Lightning game on April 6 will almost certainly give me heart palpitations.
I’m torn between Tampa and Carolina, and I don’t think the answer is as obvious as one would think.
Tampa’s a team that has massively underperformed this season, is only two years removed from a Stanley Cup finals appearance, and employs some of the best players in the game in Hedman, Kucherov, and (a healthy) Stamkos. Carolina, meanwhile, are much like the Leafs in that they’re young, fast, well-coached, and have absolutely nothing to lose.
The thing that scares me most about Carolina is that, if they do end up making it, they’d be peaking at exactly the right time. The playoffs, as much as we don’t like to admit it, are just as much about being ‘hot’ than it is about being good. Also, Carolina is a team that, for the past few seasons, has given the Leafs an incredibly tough time. For Tampa, the scariest part about them is that they’ve already got a solid team in place, and adding a fresh Steven Stamkos would obviously completely change the playoff landscape.
I really want to say Carolina, but what decides it for me is the goaltending. Cam Ward is really, really bad. So is Eddie Lack. It doesn’t matter how hot the ‘Canes are – any amount of great play can be outdone by poor goaltending. Andrei Vasilevski, on the other hand, is good. That’s really what it comes down to.
I think the biggest threat to leapfrog the Leafs is the Lightning. They just seem to keep hanging in there no matter what, and with the way the last week of the schedule is, they could still make a lot of noise, especially with rumours of both Kucherov and Stamkos (!!!) potentially returning on Sunday. Tampa has a couple difficult games against the Habs in this final week, but aside from that they have a game against Dallas that they should win, and they end the season against the Sabres. And they have games against both the Bruins and Leafs, the two clubs they’re chasing. If Toronto slips at all and drops a couple straight in regulation over the next few days, that Thursday matchup could loom large. I’m scared.
I mean, yeah, it’s the Bolts. Somehow, they just keep winning; today they won a 6-3 game that was 5-3 when you consider empty netters, plus at least one of their goals deflected off a Dallas player, plus Dallas had three goals disallowed.
It’s amazing how much luck they’ve had, though they’ve been very good.
Hopefully, though, recent trends continue, and they’ll actually just be a threat to the Senators. I’d rather face Ottawa in a playoff series, but I’m not too concerned about rings this year, so watching that city explode when they realie that #TheSystem was a bit of a sham would be incredible.