Despite the Leafs’ being one of the best teams in the league since the Olympic break, there are still many critics that still aren’t convinced that the new-look Leafs are for real. The next four games will be a very good test that proves whether these pessimists are right or wrong. There won’t be any backup goalies in their next four games, as Toronto’s remaining opponents currently rank 7th, 8th, 9th and 6th in the Eastern Conference, and are all battling for the final two spots in the playoffs.
For the last three weeks, the Leafs have played the role of spoiler to perfection, beating playoff hopefuls like Tampa Bay, Boston, Atlanta, Montreal and New York. In fact, the Leafs are 9-1-1 against teams in the top 10 spots in the East. It’s been a rough season for the Buds, but they have a chance to gain even more momentum and a serious shot of confidence booster heading into next season with their last four games.
In a weird twist of scheduling coincidence, the race for the last three spots in the Eastern Conference will run through Toronto, with Montreal, Boston, New York and Philadelphia all within 4 points of each other. Montreal currently leads the pack with 84 points and holds the 6th place. If most Leaf fans are anything like me, I’m hoping and praying that the Canadiens’ playoff chances come down to their final home game against the Leafs, since nothing would make me happier than to see Toronto march into the Bell Centre and knock their hated rivals out of the postseason.
With the playoff race down to the last few games, all the Leafs’ remaining games will have a definite playoff feel to them, as the teams they’ll be playing are in a “win-at-all-costs” mentality. Boston and Philadelphia both trail Montreal by 2 points, although Boston also holds a game in hand on the Flyers and Habs. New York is just a game back of the Bruins and Flyers, and while Atlanta is tied with the Rangers, they have the misfortune of finishing their season with a run against the cream of the Eastern Conference – 2 games with Pittsburgh, and games against Washington and New Jersey.
Toronto may not be going to the playoffs this year, but the way they perform in the next few games will be a good barometer as to just how real this team is. With Florida, Tampa Bay and the Islanders all within striking distance, the Leafs also have a chance at redeeming themselves and pulling a lottery pick out from under the Bruins.