Maple Leafs can play ‘spoiler’ to close out their regular season

Photo credit:Ed Mulholland-USA TODAY Sports
Shane Seney
18 days ago
Of their five games left in the regular season, the Maple Leafs face off against the New Jersey Devils in a back-to-back, and host the Detroit Red Wings on Saturday night, with a chance to eliminate both teams from playoff contention in the Eastern Conference. There’s also the Florida Panthers to consider as next week’s game could be for home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs, as Toronto trails the Cats by three points with one game in hand. While there may not be a ton to play for on the surface level, some underlying storylines have begun to creep up.
The spoiler session started on Monday night when the Leafs took the extra point from the Kyle Dubas-led Pittsburgh Penguins thanks to some sneaky quick hands from Jake McCabe in overtime. By only securing the one point, the Pens remain tied with the Red Wings at 84 points, as both teams battle for the final wildcard spot in the East.
While the Devils are on the slate twice, followed by the Red Wings and Panthers, there’s also the season finale against the Tampa Bay Lightning, which could be a ‘throw-away’ game for the Leafs. With a chance that their playoff seeding could be in stone by game #82, head coach Sheldon Keefe could decide to rest the likes of Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Morgan Rielly and Ilya Samsonov – four Leafs who are going to have a massive task this spring to try and propel this team into a deep playoff run.

Everything is Coming Together Up Front

Sure, there are a few injuries and lineup decisions to still work themselves out, but for the most part, everything is starting to come together for the Maple Leafs, with the Stanley Cup Playoffs just over a week away. Samsonov has solidified himself as the starting goalie come Game 1, and it’s likely even if things don’t go well the first game, he’s going to be given a leash as he’s shown the ability to bounce back throughout this entire season. Perhaps no Maple Leaf has bounced back better than Samsonov.
The Russian netminder has won his last five starts and while he’ll give way to Joseph Woll on the back end of this week’s back-to-back, he’ll likely start against the Red Wings on Saturday and against Florida next Tuesday, with Woll getting the start against Tampa to close the season. Toronto’s forward lines are taking shape and the new spread offense seems to be working masterfully for the Maple Leafs. Keefe continues to roll out Matthews, Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi together and rightfully so. This line has great chemistry together and is giving opponents fits. Their three playing styles complement each other perfectly and the results could very well continue into the playoffs.
Mitch Marner has become the perfect shot-gun mate for John Tavares as Keefe looks to this line to help on the defensive side of the puck. Bobby McMann’s physical capabilities and his willingness to be hard on the forecheck is a nice cherry on top for this trio that appears to be set come playoff time. Nylander continues to play alongside Pontus Holmberg and Matthew Knies and it’s gotten Knies going. He has two goals in their last two games together and again, another trio that complements each other nicely with their playing styles. While it’s rare to see a 96-point player on a team’s third line, that’s the luxury Keefe currently has in Toronto.
The fourth line needs some work and is not set in stone by any means. Calle Jarnkrok could take the spot of Connor Dewar once he returns and play alongside David Kampf and Ryan Reaves. Noah Gregor seems like an afterthought at this point but will be a part of the Leafs’ black aces once the postseason begins. Reaves has shown enough of a turnaround this season and of late has been much more effective, building some trust with the coaching staff and upping his chances of playing in Game 1.
The Leafs blueline however continues to be a bit of a question mark as Ilya Lyubushkin has been awful of late, and the likes of Joel Edmundson and Timothy Liljegren are going to be good to go soon, which complicates the matter a touch for the Maple Leafs. Both should be in the Game 1 lineup, but it’s going to be tough to figure out who will sit. Simon Benoit has been the odd man out at times this season, so perhaps Keefe goes that route. What about sitting Lyubushkin? Mark Giordano has been playing better of late, however, is likely getting sat ahead of TJ Brodie, who has turned his game around since being healthy and scratched earlier this season.
There’s lots to still decide for the coaching staff as the Maple Leafs are gearing up for what they hope is a deep playoff run. Even though Toronto has secured a playoff spot, there’s lots to play for these last five games, including crushing some dreams in New Jersey and Motown.

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