What a difference a week makes.
Last week after the trade deadline the situation the Maple Leafs found themselves in looked grim. They were on a three game losing streak, albeit two in overtime, since the Olympics ended. They failed to add anything at the deadline and they were facing a horrible two week schedule of the Rangers, Flyers, Ducks, Sharks, Kings, Capitals and Red Wings.
Halfway through and things are looking pretty good in Leaf-land.
The Leafs beat the Rangers and Flyers in OT, while winning in regulation at Anaheim and Los Angeles.
Of course on the other side of the coin is the absolute debacle in San Jose.
All in all though, the Leafs are hot in their last four, and emerged from the California swing with four out of a possible six points. I think most teams would be happy with that.
Last night’s win in Los Angeles may be costly though. Leafs goalie Jonathan Bernier was forced to leave the game with what the team is calling a lower body injury. Chris Johnson reported that the injury was pre-existing and was simply aggravated during the game. Darren Dreger says the injury isn’t expected to be serious but Bernier could miss a few games.
The Leafs have 14 games left in the season to decide their first round playoff opponent.
With four wins in five games they’ve moved up to third overall in the conference. They’re 13 points behind Boston and 12 behind Pittsburgh, so they’re not catching either team even though they’ve shifted into cruise control.
That being said, they clearly would prefer home ice in at least the first round, so a third or fourth finish has to be the goal. Tampa Bay currently sits in fourth, three points behind the Leafs but with two games in hand. After that it’s the Blue Jackets and Rangers, six points back but both with games in hand.
And then you have the Montreal Canadiens.
Due to the ridiculous NHL playoff format, the Canadiens are currently the top ‘wildcard’ team. That’s despite having more points than either the Blue Jackets or Rangers. In fact they’re tied with Tampa and only three points behind the Leafs, with a game in hand.
That’s got to be the Leafs fear and the driving force for the rest of the season. If you drop behind Tampa and Montreal, you drop from the third seed to the seventh and get a round one date with the high powered Penguins or even worse, a rematch with Boston.
They can avoid that matchup though. The Leafs have two games left against the Lightning and another against Montreal. There are also very winnable games against Ottawa, Florida and Calgary. Winning those six games will be a real boast to the Leafs seeding, giving them a better chance of making some noise in the playoffs.
It all starts on Sunday, when the Maple Leafs visit Washington for a rare 3 p.m. game.