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Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Leafs Playoff Hopes Singing The Blues

It’s not over yet.

The Toronto Maple Leafs lost again yesterday, this time 5-3 to the St. Louis Blues, and they dropped out of a playoff spot. That’s certainly not good, but the season isn’t over yet and the Leafs have eight games left to prove it.

That’s the good news.

The bad news is the Leafs will probably have to win six of their final eight to guarantee a spot. Let’s take a look at what they’ll have to do, and what the other bubble teams need to do, to lock down a playoff spot.

Four Way Tie

Toronto, Detroit, Columbus and Washington are all tied at 80 pts each right now. Toronto has eight games left, Washington has nine and Detroit and Columbus have ten. Immediately that means Toronto is in trouble.

If two teams remained tied at the end of the regular season, the next tiebreak is ROW, which is wins in regulation or overtime. Currently Columbus has 32, Detroit has 28, Toronto 27 and Washington 25. That puts Washington in a bad position.

The next tiebreaker is points earned head to head. In that case it’s most points earned between the two teams and if they played an uneven number of games the team with more home games has the first home game stricken from the record.

That means Columbus holds the tiebreak over Toronto and Washington, but is tied with Detroit.

Washington has the tiebreak over Toronto, is tied with Detroit but loses to Columbus.

Toronto loses the tiebreak to both Columbus and Washington, with Detroit yet to be decided. Currently Toronto is 1-1-1 against Detroit while the Red Wings are 2-0-1. If Toronto beats them in regulation the tiebreak is a tie. Any other result means Detroit wins the tiebreak.

Which means Detroit is tied on the tiebreak with both Columbus and Washington, with the Toronto tiebreak yet to be determined.

And if somehow teams are still tied at season end it would then come down to goals for and against. Columbus is +8, Washington is -6, Detroit is -13 and the Leafs are -15. Again advantage Columbus and Toronto is in a bad position.

Schedule Breakdown – Toronto

One advantage Toronto does have is a relatively easier schedule than the competition.

Of Toronto’s eight remaining games, four come against teams that should be beatable. Florida, Ottawa, Calgary and Winnipeg are all well below them in the standings. They also play Detroit at home, which is probably the most important game of the season.

The major drawback of the Leafs schedule is the one back to back, this Friday and Saturday. On Friday they’re in Philadelphia to play the Flyers. Saturday is home to Detroit in a must win game.

If you argue that the Leafs should beat the four teams below them, and are able to beat the Red Wings, that would give them ten points. If they can beat the Flyers (which is more likely than beating the Lightning or Bruins) that would give them 12 pts, which is probably enough to safely get them in, possibly as the seventh seed. That’s important, because nobody in their right mind wants to face Boston, who is the hottest team in the league and has won 12 of their last 13.

Schedule Breakdown – Detroit

Detroit has three back to back sets left this year, with only ten games remaining. They play in Toronto on Saturday before hosting the Lightning on Sunday. The other back to backs are against the Sabres and Canadiens and the Sabres and Penguins. Four of those six games are on the road.

So that’s not good if you’re a Detroit fan. The good news is you get to play Buffalo twice as well as the Hurricanes. However you also have the Lightning, Bruins, Penguins, Canadiens and Blues. The game against the Blues is the last of the season and St. Louis may have wrapped up its position by then, so you may get a half energy team.

With the amount of injuries Detroit has, along with a very tough road, they’ll be hard pressed to make the playoffs. It’s certainly possible, but asking them to win two or three games against the more difficult teams isn’t going to be easy, especially with Lightning, Canadiens and Penguins games all on the second night of their back to back’s.

For Detroit it comes down to beating the Maple Leafs (or losing after regulation) while picking up as many wins as they can.

Schedule Breakdown – Washington

Washington has the Bruins, Predators, Stars, Devils, Islanders, Blues, Hurricanes, Blackhawks and Lightning.

While the Devils, Islanders and Hurricanes should all be beatable, those games are all on the road. The Capitals are 20-11-6 at home but only 14-16-6 on the road, so that’s not encouraging.

The game against the Predators looks winnable, but it’s on the second half of a back to back and it’s in Nashville. Their other back to back is in Carolina and against Chicago in Washington.

Also if the season comes down to tiebreakers, Washington is way behind on ROW. The only shot the Capitals seem to have is to get incredibly hot and not let this come down to a tie, which seems unlikely.

Schedule Breakdown – Columbus

Columbus may be in the best position of the four teams. With the most games left to play, the best ROW and the best +/-, they’re in a unique position where they own every tiebreaker.

Their schedule however, may be the worst. Of the final ten games, eight are back to back.

The easier teams on the schedule for the Blue Jackets are Florida, the Islanders and the Hurricanes. The Florida and Carolina games are the second of back to backs.

The Blue Jackets have to deal with the Penguins, Avalanche, Flyers, Coyotes, Stars and Lightning.

Phoenix and Dallas are still battling for their playoff lives, while Colorado, Philadelphia and Tampa are all looking for home ice in the first round.

That means only the Penguins, who are 13 pts clear of the Rangers but seven pts behind the Bruins, have their playoff position already set. They’ll just be looking to get healthy.

So all Columbus has to do to make it to the playoffs is to keep pace. They own all the tiebreakers, so as long as they keep pace they’ll get in that way.

So what’s going to happen?

No team is sitting in a perfect position. Columbus owns all the tiebreakers and has the worst schedule. Washington is behind on tiebreaks and has a hard away schedule. Detroit is banged up and has a bunch of back to backs and Toronto may have the easiest schedule, but has lost six in a row and would need to win at least five of the next eight to make it.

Nobody has an easy path, which means the playoff race could come right down to the wire.

Which is great if you’re a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

After all, it’s not over yet.

Tags: Toronto Maple Leafs

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