The Toronto Maple Leafs have been stuttering a bit down the back stretch of the season, but their end game – a third consecutive playoff berth after years of misery – is mathematically guaranteed if they play their cards right on Saturday evening.
It’s a playoff-clinching night for Toronto, as they can guarantee their spot with a loss by Montreal against Winnipeg in any fashion or by earning at least one point themselves. In theory, it should be an easy enough order to fill as they face the league-worst Ottawa Senators – but as the team has proven in the last few weeks, they’ll need to actually follow through in order to take home what could very well be their 46th ROW of the year.
Projected Leaf lineup tonight
— Paul Hendrick (@HennyTweets) March 30, 2019
It hasn’t been talked about much amid all the hysteria regarding playoff unfairness, but John Tavares is just four goals behind Alex Ovechkin in a surprising-looking Rocket Richard race. He’s just a hat trick away from being a serious contender, and the multi-goal production from seemingly every Leafs forward at some point during the year gives serious hope that he can possibly pull it off.
The team will see Travis Dermott return to the lineup and bolster their blue line again, which is nothing but good news – but the real question is whether or not the players who have been lagging in production, like Kasperi Kapanen, can step up as the Leafs look to rebound from the horror show of their last game against Ottawa a few weeks ago.
Mark Borowiecki is out with an upper body injury and Ben Harpur plays. Zack Smith is a game-time decision. If he plays, Max Veronneau would be a candidate to get scratched. #Sens
— Bruce Garrioch (@SunGarrioch) March 30, 2019
Not a whole lot to say about the Senators at this point in the season, as the Leafs’ provincial ‘rivals’ a full five points behind the second-worst team in the league. They aren’t quite at 2016-17 Colorado levels, but it’s hard to imagine a world in which they’re anywhere close to contending – and it’s hard to look at their lineup and be inspired by, well, any of it.
Their scoring production, as mentioned during the last matchup between these two teams, was almost entirely shipped out at the trade deadline. They’re left with five guys with over 10 goals this year, and one of those – Magnus Paajarvi – only has 16 points overall.
Maxime LaJoie is out for the season, formerly-waived Zack Smith is a game-time decision, and Mark Borowiecki is out with injury now too. The brightest spot on the year is Thomas Chabot, who has been consistently producing since returning to the lineup earlier in the week following his own injury – but even that’s hard to get too excited about with the Senators preparing to inevitably send their first-round, top-five pick to the Avalanche in a few months.
Toronto is giving Frederik Andersen a much-needed day off in a wholly winnable game against Ottawa, putting Garret Sparks back in against the rivals up the road. It’s a good chance for Sparks to show that he’s able to string together a pair of consistent games, especially following a key win against Buffalo – but a tough break after being the guy in net during the last showdown between these two teams. The Leafs defense fell apart in front of their backup, combining with his own shaking performance to allow a whopping six goals by Ottawa on the 16th.
Unsurprisingly, Craig Anderson will also be given the nod, as the Senators continue to play an almost perfectly-even tandem through the end of the year. Anderson picked up a shutout against the Sabres on the 26th, so he’ll be coming into the game hot – and hoping to give the Senators fans that still want to see some joy a little bit of happiness down the final week of the year.