Forget the Raptors and Blue Jays: Toronto’s best championship hopes lie with the Maple Leafs

Photo credit:© Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Nick Alberga
2 months ago
The world is the Toronto Maple Leafs’ oyster.
No, seriously.
With the Blue Jays playing like hot garbage out of the gates and the Raptors relegated to cellar dweller status, Auston Matthews and company have a chance to galvanize the city this spring.
No disrespect to Toronto FC, either.
Incredibly, the Leafs are slated to wrap up their 2023-24 regular season schedule in six days when they visit the rival Tampa Bay Lightning next Wednesday night. After that, they’ll have a few days to prepare ahead of their postseason opener, which is expected to take place on Saturday, April 20th.
Make no mistake about it, it’s been a rollercoaster season thus far. That said, it really feels like the team is rounding into form at the perfect time. As hoped, Morgan Rielly’s bold reaction to Ridly Greig’s empty net clapper has proven to be a turning point in the season. In fact, since that faithful February night, the Leafs have tallied a 20-7-1 record. They lead the NHL in wins, points, and goals scored in that span. Message received.
Needless to say, there are a variety of reasons for Leafs Nation to feel optimistic about their team entering the Stanley Cup Playoffs. For starters, there’s that Auston Matthews guy. The soon-to-be three-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner, who on Tuesday night became the first NHL player in 28 years to score 66 goals in a single season, needs four more tallies in the final four contests to hit the 70-goal plateau. For reference, that mark hasn’t been reached in 31 years. Yeah, not bad at all.
Then there’s William Nylander. The 27-year-old, who’s currently one goal shy of a career-high, needs just four points to hit 100 for the first time in his career. All in all, he’s played the best hockey of his career this season. On top of that, Mitch Marner’s back and healthy, John Tavares is playing well, Morgan Rielly’s dialled in, and Ilya Samsonov’s on a different planet. Since being placed on waivers on January 1st, the Russian netminder has registered an 18-4-1 record to go along with a 2.46 goals-against average, .913 save percentage, and two shutouts.
Additionally, Toronto’s depth pieces have really elevated their play over the past two months. In short order, Bobby McMann has become a household name, Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi have muscled their way into permanent top-six roles, and Matthew Knies has been pulling his weight, too. Hell, even Ryan Reaves has been performing to the best of his abilities. Everyone should be feeling really good about themselves right now.
All that’s left is for this team – like they did when Rielly got suspended – to seize the moment. They have a chance – whether they realize it or not – to achieve legendary status in this market. The city is begging for a winner, and at this point, the hockey team feels like the only legitimate hope.

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