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Photo Credit: Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

Maple Leafs potential playoff path is an unenviable one

Ahhhhhhhh, it’s parade-planning season in Toronto.

The Toronto Maple Leafs finished 2017-18 with a franchise-best 49 wins and 105 points en route to a second straight playoff appearance, and the club was rewarded with a murderous draw and an unenviable potential path to the Stanley Cup Final.

Yeah, let’s maybe hold off on that parade for a bit.

Finishing third in the division, a position they essentially held comfortably all season long, Toronto will have home ice advantage for exactly zero rounds this postseason which, considering the Leafs were one of only five teams to win at least 29 games on home ice this year, is not ideal.

Aside from the whole not-having-home-ice thing, the playoff format as it’s currently constructed has the Leafs on a collision course with three of the league’s legitimate Stanley Cup contenders before they even think about making it out of the Eastern Conference.

Division rivals Tampa Bay and Boston, and the two-time defending Cup champion Penguins are likely all on the docket for a Leafs team which has a chance (A CHANCE), if everything falls into place, to reach it’s first conference final since 1999 when they were ousted by ol’ Slinky-Spine Dominik Hasek and the Sabres in five games.

Round 1 — Bruins. The 2013 collapse is long in the rearview and so is the whole Kessel-Seguin-Yada-Yada-Yada situation, but the Bruins are still a brutal opponent to have to square up with in the opening round. Boston showed glimpses of being the NHL’s best team this season, including a 25-game stretch in January and February when the Bruins went 20-2-3 and collected 43 of a possible 50 points. This team has a lethal first line with David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand running amuck all season long, a 6-foot-9 behemoth on the backend who mustn’t be much fun to play against, and a goaltender in Tuukka Rask who can steal a series by himself.

Round 2 — Lightning (probably). If they can fight their way past the Bruins, the Leafs will get the pleasure of meeting up with the Eastern Conference champs in Round 2. The Lighting took three of four from Toronto during the regular season and are led up front by Hart Trophy candidate Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, and a supporting cast featuring the likes of Brayden Point, Yanni Gourde and Tyler Johnson — the Lightning are four-lines deep and possess the terrifying ability to rip a game wide up in a real hurry. They’re manned on the backend by perennial Norris candidate and absolute savage Victor Hedman, while Andrei Vasilevskiy was the far-and-away favourite to win the Hart Trophy until the last 6-8 weeks of the season. Tampa only had ten regulation losses at home all season.

Jun 11, 2017; Nashville, TN, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby (left) and center Evgeni Malkin (right) celebrate with the Stanley Cup after defeating the Nashville Predators in game six of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final at Bridgestone Arena. Mandatory Credit: Dave Sandford/NHLI/Pool Photo via USA TODAY Sports

Round 3 — Pittsburgh (probably). And, if this young and hungry Leafs squad is able to bust through both the Bruins and the Lightning, they will likely have to face the two-time defending Cup champs in Pittsburgh, who laid an absolute beat down on the Flyers in Game one of their opening-round series on Wednesday. Probably don’t have to list all the reasons why the Leafs should pray that the Pens get booted before a potential third-round showdown, but here they are: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, best home record in the league, best power play in the league, a goaltender with two Stanley Cups to his name in his first two seasons and a roster laden with championship rings.

Yikes.

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  • leafdreamer

    The no home ice advantage throughout the playoffs is a problem. This year looks more like ‘another step’ on the way to the Cup than ‘this is the year’. I don’t think we’ll have too much trouble with the Bruins in the first round though and that is progress right there. Gotta learn to walk before you can run. We haven’t won a playoff round in a looong time.

  • tbone

    To change the current playoff system the NHL has to gain something. They like the current system because it creates rivalries within each division and conference between teams and fan bases. A couple of months ago I read and article somewhere of a new format that just might be the cat’s ass. Sure wish I could remember the authors name so that I could give him credit here.
    The new format would be based on Conference standings rather than Divisional standings. Instead of 8 teams masking the playoffs there would be 10 teams from each conference seeded 1 to 10. Sounds like we’d be weakening and diluting the product but please stay with me.
    Teams seeded 7,8,9,and 10 get to play 1 game playin games. Team 7 plays 10 and team 8 plays 9. one game and you get to go on. This will surely increase fan interest in the weaker markets and there would be 2 more gates for the owners. more money for the NHL.
    The incentive for the top 6 seeds is that you don’t want to be in that 1 game playin. To add to the original authors version I would also give the President Trophy winner the 16th pick in every round of the entry draft instead of penalizing them with the 31st pick.
    So what have we done? We’ve added 2 1 game playin games which generates more fan interest throughout the league and more money for the owners. We’ve given every team an incentive to be trying hard all season so that they would at least be in a top 6 position in their conference. We’ve given a real incentive to actually want to be the President Trophy winner.
    Let’s see how this would have worked out this year….in the Eastern Conference Florida would seed #9 and Carolina would seed as #10. Columbus would play Carolina and New Jersey would play Florida in 1 game winner goes on and loser gets to golf. I would think Columbus would put Carolina out of their misery but New Jersey vs Florida? This could be a pick’em and I’ll pick Florida. So now the Eastern Conference would set up with Tampa vs Florida, Boston vs Columbus, Washington vs Phillie and Toronto vs Pittsburg. Just can’t seem to get a break can we!!!
    I’ll let you figure out the Western Conference. I have a headache and I think I need to lie down!