It's that magical time of year again, readers. Teams are gearing up for the playoffs, non-playoff teams are getting their scouts out to junior games and NCAA games for some last-minute studying of players, and players are gearing up for the stretch drive where they'll play the role of hero or spoiler in the drama we call "hockey". One team that has been a regular contributor on the spolier side has been the Toronto Maple Leafs. Last year, the Maple Leafs "death watch" began sometime after the puck dropped in the opening game, but the Leafs went on a big run this year to make things interesting. Let's take a look at their remaining schedule to see how the season will play out.
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- at Carolina: should be a good test for the Leafs. They need to keep chasing down teams in front of them.
- at Florida: the home team has won each game in the three games these two have played. If the trend continues, the Leafs will be on the wrong end of this one. They need these points.
- vs. Boston: the Leafs beat the Bruins on February 15, so they'll need another big game. Beating teams above them in the standings = good!
- at Minnesota: if Minnesota doesn't lull them to sleep, this is a game that Toronto must win. Minnesota is in the same boat as Toronto, so this game might be a dogfight.
- at Colorado: Toronto has to win this game. Colorado is battling for a lottery pick, so these are two points that could prove large in the long run.
- at Detroit: Detroit is a well-oiled machine. Unless they develop a rash of injuries, this one looks like a loss for the Leafs.
- vs. Sabres: Buffalo has proven plucky over the last few weeks. Toronto is 2-3 against them at this point, but the last two games were won by Toronto. This is another team the Leafs are chasing, so these two points are huge in the standings.
- at Boston: Four points in one month from the same team in your division? Huge. Is it possible? Yes. And the Leafs need it.
- at Ottawa: Another divisional game, but this time against a foe at the bottom of the standings. Giving away any points to the Senators could prove fatal.
- vs. Washington: Tough game for the Leafs against a team that will be hungry down the stretch leading into the playoffs. I'm not confident in Toronto's chances against the Capitals.
- at New Jersey: This game features the two teams that seem to have the best chance to make a run at that eight-seed. One of these teams will play the role of spoiler in this game. The question is: which one?
- vs. Montreal: This might be a pivotal game for the Leafs if they are within a point or two of the eighth and final playoff spot. Toronto holds a 3-2 series lead thus far this season.
According to Sports Club Stats, a fabulous website that determines the chances of any team making the playoffs, the Leafs have a 3% chance of making the playoffs at this point. As far as Sports Club Stats can determine, the Leafs are destined to finish the season as the tenth-best team in the Eastern Conference. Again, the odds don't look good.
The key is that there is a 3% chance for them to make it. That means there's a chance, and that's all a team needs. Whether or not the Leafs make it will entirely depend on how they play over their remaining games, but there's a still a chance.
And that's good enough for most Leaf fans this late in the season.
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!