A first round preview (assuming the Leafs don’t blow it)

So the Leafs are coming off another rough week. They went into California, and had a schedule of three very winnable games against lottery teams and left with one point. To add to that, the Florida Panthers won both of their games since the Leafs last played, and are now sitting one point back of the Leafs for 3rd in the Atlantic. At the beginning of last week the Leafs sat at a 90.2% chance of making the playoffs, now that’s dipped to 73.6% (according to Moneypuck.com). And the Panthers that were sitting around 20% are now up to 43.4% odds of making it. While the odds still favour the Leafs, I can’t imagine there’s a lot of confidence in the Leafs at the moment.

Of course, there’s good news too…

Morgan Rielly goes a long way in improving the state of the Leafs blueline, and improving the locker room, as Rielly has certainly established himself as a leader in that regards as well over the past few seasons. Where Rielly slots in remains to be seen, but if I had to guess, it will be alongside Cody Ceci, as Dermott and Holl have proven to be reliable, and Barrie has worked well with Marincin and Sandin, depending on who stays in.

Morgan Rielly
Cody Ceci
Travis Dermott
Justin Holl
Rasmus Sandin
Tyson Barrie

The total has gone OVER in 5 of Toronto’s last 6 games against an opponent in the Eastern Conference conference. – OddsShark.com

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Now there’s the small matter of the Tampa Bay Lightning. A very good hockey team.

Fun Fact, they have an identical 4-5-1 record with the Leafs over their last ten games, and their most recent game involved a loss to the Detroit Red Wings, yes, those historically bad Detroit Red Wings.

Also consider the fact that the Leafs won the last time these teams played and we can throw our defeatist attitudes out the window and get amped up for what could be a potential matchup in the first round of the playoffs, assuming the Leafs still want to play in April.

The Lightning are quite similar to the Leafs in that they have a murderers row of offensive talent offset with as many affordable roleplayers playing beyond their contracts as they can find. The biggest difference is likely the existence of Victor Hedman, which sadly the Leafs don’t have an answer to. The good news, at least for tonight, is that Hedman is out. Stamkos too. Weird how other teams also have injuries, and I’m surprised no one is talking about this.

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It’s safe to say the Lightning also have a bit of an advantage with Andrei Vasilevskiy over the inconsistent performances from Freddie Andersen, and expect to see both of the them in net tonight. Andersen has historically responded pretty well when the Leafs need to make a statement, so anecdotally there’s that.

So far the series between the two teams is split, 1-1, with the Lightning decimating the Babcock era Leafs, and the Keefe era Leafs squeaking out a victory prior to the California road trip.

A win tonight brings not only optimism that the Leafs are still very much a playoff team, and that they are capable of handling their first round opponent.

A loss tonight gives the Panthers a chance to leap from the Leafs in the standings or at the very least reminds us that Tampa will be just as challenging in the first round as Boston was.

Expect all Leafs fans to act rationally tonight.

Tonight’s game starts at 7:00 PM ET and it can be seen on TSN 4.

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