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The Leafs can clinch a playoff spot this weekend, here’s how

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Photo credit:Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
Jon Steitzer
11 months ago
That tiny little “x” next to the Toronto Maple Leafs on the standings tables can be a real mood elevator. We should all feel pretty confident the Leafs are going to get there but there is a benefit to getting things squared away early too. Here’s what the Leafs need to do in their back-to-back this weekend or what other teams need to do over the next couple of days to give the Leafs their x, and what is still required to clinch home ice advantage in the remaining games of the season.
As it sits right now the Panthers winning all ten of their remaining games would give them 99 points and if they win their way out in regulation or overtime they’d have 44 regulation or overtime wins. With the season tiebreakers like goal differential and season series results still not fully determined, Toronto wouldn’t clinch this week if the Leafs won both of their games, they’d still require a Panthers loss. The Panthers have a game Saturday against the Rangers, if they win that it wouldn’t be until Monday that the Panthers can help the Leafs clinch.
Pittsburgh has the potential to reach 100 points if they won their way out of the season, but they can still help the Leafs clinch this weekend if they lose to Washington on Saturday. If the Leafs win both of their games and the Penguins lose, the Leafs are in. It would be nice if Brian Burke could successfully get the Leafs into the playoffs.
(Save for Islanders section)

Clinching Home in the first round

It goes without saying that this is going to take a bit more time to pull off, but as strange as it is to say, I don’t think the Leafs can really screw this up. The Leafs have a 5 point lead over the Lightning with two games at hand. And this weekend the Lightning face the Bruins. That’s a pretty good scenario for the Leafs as it would require the Lightning to pick up 3 more wins than the Leafs in their remaining 9 games than the Leafs pick up in their remaining 11. The Leafs and the Lightning have one remaining game against each other, the second last game of the Leafs season, so hopefully all of this is sorted before then. In this situation, there needs to be a combination of seven Leafs wins or Lightning losses to get Toronto home ice for the first round. It’s also a very unlikely situation, but who knows, maybe Florida pulls off the impossible and catches the Lightning for 3rd in the Atlantic.

So why does any of this matter?

As I mentioned above, the little “x” makes all feel so good. It’s nice to have and getting before other teams is one of those small little joys that make people feel better about the Toronto Maple Leafs.
It’s also a nice thing from a load management perspective and this isn’t strictly in a scratch everyone down the stretch and not has them ready for the playoffs thing, but something where the Leafs can limit ice time for stars a bit more, not pushing anyone unnecessarily over the 20-minute mark, but still have your best players available to help you win the game if needed. I’m sure as hard as it is to ask a player like Morgan Rielly or John Tavares to sit for a night, it’s equally hard to not tell them they are going to play as much as they are used to. It might be easier to scratch players to keep them, players, from doing anything necessary in the moment to win a game, but I’m also not sure you want to tell them not to do that. Just limit the situations where they need to.
The Leafs control a lot of their own fate this weekend. A big game against the already clinched Carolina Hurricanes and a strong follow up against the Nashville Predators will pretty much get the Leafs where they need to go. The good news is that if it doesn’t happen this weekend, the Leafs next game will come Wednesday against the Panthers and a Leafs win against Florida would likely seal it.

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