Toronto Maple Leafs Gear Up for First Round With Bruins

TORONTO, ON - March 31 In the second period, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) complains to referee for being called for cross-checking.The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Winnipeg Jets at the Air Canada Centre in NHL hockey action.March 31, 2018 (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images)
TORONTO, ON - March 31 In the second period, Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Jake Gardiner (51) complains to referee for being called for cross-checking.The Toronto Maple Leafs took on the Winnipeg Jets at the Air Canada Centre in NHL hockey action.March 31, 2018 (Richard Lautens/Toronto Star via Getty Images) /
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It is now a near certainty that the Toronto Maple Leafs will play the Boston Bruins next week in the first round of the playoffs.

The Toronto Maple Leafs need just one point tonight to clinch.  Failing that, they can get a single point tomorrow against Carolina, or Montreal can lose their game, either in regulation or overtime, to Tampa tomorrow night.

Can the Leafs still get home ice advantage?  Well, the Bruins have lost two in a row, and if the Leafs had of had any luck in the last couple of weeks (they were beaten by three hot goalies, and lost a game where Freddie Andersen had one of his worst ever performances) they’d be in the drivers seat here.

With any luck, the Leafs would be 6-0 or at least 5-1, which when coupled with Boston’s recent slide, would have given them a very strong chance for home ice in round one.

As it stands, the Leafs would have to win their final  four games and get a lot of help from Boston.

So it’s pretty unlikely.

Optimism

Home ice or not, there are  a lot of reasons to be optimistic about the Leafs playoff chances.

The odds that Andersen continues to be as bad as he’s been lately are low.

The Leafs top two lines are rolling, and both are putting up better numbers than even Boston’s vaunted number-one line of Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and the ageless Patrice Bergeron.

Also, the Leafs should get back reinforcements soon.

Both Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott are skating and expected back soon.

Even though some Leafs fans have a blindspot when it comes to Gardiner, he is a key player who was missed a lot during his absence with a back injury.  Gardiner always makes it so the Leafs get more shot-attempts, shots, scoring chances and goals when he’s on the ice, so his contributions are invaluable.

Sure, he’ll have the odd braincramp, but those tend to stand out in the mind but get washed away in the big picture.  The fact is, Gardiner is amazingly consistent at providing the Leafs with positive results in all measures of performance.

He is one of the most underrated players in NHL history, and last year he scored 50 points and was just one of 16 defenseman to do so.  Out of those 16, Gardiner provided some of the best defensive metrics.  He’s an around threat who borders on being an elite player.

His return will allow the Toronto Maple Leafs to once again try Morgain Rielly with a new partner, or make is so one of Gardiner, Rielly and Muzzin are on the ice for the entire game.

Either way, it’s a sweet proposition.

Next. Top Ten Prospects on the Leafs. dark

If the Toronto Maple Leafs were getting any luck at all over the last two weeks, we’d be talking about how they’re picking it up just as Boston is stalling.

Things look good and I can’t wait for the Playoffs.