Toronto Maple Leafs about to enter the belly of the beast

TAMPA, FL - MARCH 16: Nazem Kadri
TAMPA, FL - MARCH 16: Nazem Kadri /

The Toronto Maple Leafs may have won three straight games, but they are about to enter the belly of the beast.

This week, the Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Nashville Predators, who have already clinched playoff spots and lead their respective conferences. The Leafs have 10 more games to play and they are about to enter the final homestretch of the season, with 19 days left to go.

If this news holds up, this could not come at a better time with just a few games left in the regular season to get them prepared for the playoffs.

Games against the league’s powerhouses aren’t exactly easing them back in, but for Auston Matthews, he hasn’t played in an NHL game since Feb. 22. He will definitely need to shake off some rust and adjust back to game speed even his injury allowed him to keep his conditioning up.

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Frederik Andersen seems to play his best hockey when he faces a lot of shots. However, the time off should have provided a nice mental break and help him refocus the playoffs.

Last year against the Capitals, he was nowhere near his best. Part of it could have been the injury he suffered in the second last game of the season.

However, if he can come back and play at the level that has him in the conversation for the Vezina, the Leafs will be a force to be reckoned with.

Nikita Zaitsev and Leo Komarov are still expected to miss some more time which is not ideal, but that means more experience for the newest call-up Andreas Johnsson. Seeing him on a line with William Nylander and Zach Hyman (all Marlies graduates by the way) was electric, and the optimism and energy from him and Travis Dermott has been enlightening.

In the game against the Canadiens, Johnsson had seven shots on goal and was buzzing around the net. He got his first NHL goal, but he could have gotten way more if it wasn’t for the unreal performance from Charlie Lindgren.

Coach Mike Babcock had this to say about Johnsson’s performance:

Note that in this video, every player in blue and white is a Marlies’ graduate:

It will not be an easy week as the Lightning and the Predators have been red hot. The Lightning are 7-2-1 in their last 10 games while Nashville hasn’t lost in regulation since Feb. 17.

Next: Lou Lamoriello's fate

Tampa Bay needs to win all the games they can after getting shut out by the Bruins. Their playoff berth may be guaranteed, but home ice advantage is still up in the air. If the Maple Leafs wish to go deep in the playoffs, they will need to play (and win) against the best teams in the league.