Toronto Maple Leafs need to keep focused ahead of playoffs

NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 05: Keith Kinkaid
NEWARK, NJ - APRIL 05: Keith Kinkaid /

The Toronto Maple Leafs continue to play games that don’t affect the standings and now need to remain focused with the playoffs approaching.

For the past two months the Toronto Maple Leafs have not had much pressure to play, given their position in the standings. Since they had no chance of losing third place in the Atlantic and they had an unrealistic chance of climbing the ranks, their spot in the standings remained effectively unchallenged.

When you’re playing games that don’t “really matter”, it’s hard to keep focused and play properly. However, a team led by Mike Babcock is not going to just roll over and accept their situation; they’re going to play every game with a purpose.

For the first half of the season, the focus was on defence and playing with tight checking.  Since then, the purpose has been to turn the horses loose and prepare for the playoffs.

Against a team trying to clinch their first playoff spot in six years, this was the perfect test. The New Jersey Devils are a fast, dynamic team — a lot like the Maple Leafs — and were in a position to clinch a playoff spot.

How would the Leafs respond to the challenge?

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Both teams came flying out the gate with numerous chances at each end. William Nylander put his team on the board first, but the Devils responded with two goals in the second period. The end result was a 2-1 win for New Jersey, who celebrated the end of their playoff drought.

Here are a couple of lessons learned from the game:

  1. Frederik Andersen let in a rough goal but responded well by shutting the door, allowing his team a chance to get back in the game.He stopped two breakaway opportunities and robbed the Devils on the powerplay.
  2. The Devils had the lead in the third period, but the Leafs battled hard and gave them a run for their money in the final minutes. For a game that does not affect them, the Leafs continued to fight until the buzzer.

While the Leafs were able to keep the game close, Babcock was not too thrilled with seeing some sloppy moments from his team or the fact the Devils came away with the win.

Obviously, this is a team just waiting for the playoffs to start and trying to avoid injury. However, they must remain focused like they have the past couple of months, since they only have one game left in the regular season before they start to play meaningful games.

Next: 4 Leafs draft targets - April update

Did the scoreboard reflect the Toronto Maple Leafs’ effort in this game? Are they taking the right approach heading into the playoffs? Let us know in the comments below.