The clock is ticking. Believe me, I know. In less than 36 hours, we’ll know for sure who should have the X beside their name as they head into the post-season. You’re hoping its the Leafs. Most of us are hoping its the Leafs. The odds still favour the Leafs.
But you can’t shake the feeling that this is going to go awry. All it takes is two more regulation losses for them, and two more regulation/overtime wins for one of Tampa Bay or the New York Islanders. It could happen. That doesn’t mean it needs to be accepted as an inevitability.
Yes, the Leafs have lost two games in a row. I suppose it would be possible for them to lose four. But how often has that happened this year? Just once: Games 3, 4, 5, and 6. Frederik Andersen was still hurting, the team was still finding its way, and they lost two of those games in overtime (Winnipeg) and a shootout (Chicago). The last two potential clinching games we’ve witnessed were also just the third time they’ve been convincingly beat in back to back games, dating back to January 31st & February 2nd (6-3 to Dallas and 5-1 to St. Louis), and February 15th & 18th (5-2 to Columbus and 6-3 to Ottawa). In the game pairs that followed both of those, they went 3-0-1.
In essence, this means that Toronto’s worst losing streak up to this point would put them into the playoffs. Toronto hasn’t gone four games in a row without picking up at least two points this season, which is all they need, this season. Meanwhile, the doomsday scenario requires Tampa Bay to go on their fifth three-game win streak of the season or for the New York Islanders to extend their streak to six. That’s also a possible feat, but they haven’t accomplished it since February 2008.
On sheer odds alone, the idea of this ending in catastrophic fashion seem slim to none.
A lot is being made of the opponents that each of the three teams will face this weekend. In case you need a refresher:
- Toronto: Pittsburgh Saturday, Columbus Sunday
- Tampa Bay: Montreal Friday, Buffalo Sunday
- NY Islanders: Devils Saturday, Senators Sunday
On the surface, Toronto has the toughest competition, with two powerhouse Metropolitan teams to take on, while the others have one good Atlantic team and one basement-ish team to take on. I do think that’s underselling the challenge that others have, though.
Tampa is being thrown straight into the fire tonight. That’s absolutely undeniable. The Habs are 14-4-1 in their last 19 games, and are treating tonight’s game like the “heavy” game of the two. It’s one last test for them before wrapping up the season in Detroit, who will no doubt be playing unnecessarily heavy-handed hockey in their last weekend ever at Joe Louis Arena. Carey Price will start for the Habs tonight, and as we all know (for better and worse), he’s capable of winning a game on his own. Tampa, on the other hand is travelling on a back to back. Then you have the Sabres on Sunday, and while they haven’t been great this year, they’ve shown capability to pull off an upset or two.
The Islanders have it a bit easier. Their first opponent are the New Jersey Devils who have won… three of their last 22 games?! Okay, that’s mildly concerning. But it’s their last home game of the year against a division rival, so maybe they show up. Their last win before the megaslump, in fact, was a regulation home victory against the Islanders. Ottawa, on the other hand, will definitely have something to prove. They’re a little broken, but they’re looking to put a 5-game losing streak from March behind them as they start their playoff push, and are jockeying for position in the division. The hope is that the Leafs can put the X behind them before this came happens so the Islanders can be cheered for. But this will likely be hard fought one either way.
Toronto’s on the other end of the spectrum. The Penguins and the Blue Jackets have both securely placed themselves in 2nd and 3rd in the division. It’s locked in. It’s done. They’re facing each other, the Penguins have home ice, and it’s going to be a bloodbath. With that in mind, both will likely be wanting to rest their bones in anticipation of that.
In these two opponents, Toronto has matchups on different sides of the spectrum. the Penguins are on a 4-game winning streak; even if they don’t rest players, they’ve only made it to five once this year. The Jackets are, on the other hand, tailspinning, having lost five in a row since March 30th. They’ll probably be a bit more eager to turn things around, but also won’t be giving 110% in Game 82 with Game 1 around the corner.
The long and short of it is this: the games are basically a wash here. Everyone’s got a mix of opponents who can be tough, have been hot, and have been cold of late. Toronto has the hardest pair to face in a series, but in context, they might be safe. Oh, and they’re tied in both season series right now.
Not Those Leafs
Let’s be real, though. The reason why everybody is so sure that this is going to end poorly isn’t nestled in probability, it’s nestled in pessimism. It’s hard to tell this fanbase otherwise, and it’s hard to blame them for being skeptics. They’ve seen blown leads, lost seasons, eighteen wheelers, and Game 7s. They’ve seen a season thrown away by awful goaltending and put to rest by a shootout that wasn’t even their own. They’ve seen playoff runs twist the other way on single plays. They’ve seen a lot of crap over their years.
But these Leafs aren’t those Leafs. That’s not to say that this group isn’t immune to it’s own heartache, it’s own pain, but it is to say that they don’t automatically carrying on the legacy of previous failure simply by putting on the (completely different nowadays) sweater.
These Leafs are being led by a group of kids who weren’t even around the sphere of professional hockey when your heart was torn into pieces by those Leafs. These Leafs have their up and down moments, but haven’t suffered long-term derailment from them. These Leafs aren’t in an advantageous situation because of luck; they’re playing to about where they should be, whether you expected so or not six months ago.
Just two of eight points have to go their way. If two of them come from themselves, its the blow that kills both underdogs. The odds are in their favour and this team has shown resilience through adversity before. Things could still go sour, but the odds of that happening remain slim.
See you Saturday.