The battle between the top-four seeds in the Atlantic Division will ultimately help the Toronto Maple Leafs when the playoffs start.
The Toronto Maple Leafs still have a chance at winning the Atlantic Division this year, but they also have a chance at finishing fourth. One hot-run could give them home-ice advantage until the Stanley Cup Finals, or one bad slide could see them on the road to start the First Round.
Ever since Auston Matthews joined the roster, the Leafs have been a playoff team. You can say that the “play-in” series doesn’t count for the playoffs, but they at least made the “post-season” that year.
Anyways, over the past few years as playoff contenders, the last 20 percent of the season has been pretty boring.
During the 2021-22 campaign, Toronto was a juggernaut dominating everyone in sight, as they played in the “weaker” North Division. By the time the playoffs started, the Leafs hadn’t played a meaningful game in six weeks, so that could have been a reason why they couldn’t get the job done when it matter.
Montreal was 18 points weaker in the standings but the were fighting for their playoff-lives every night for the past few weeks, so when the games needed to be won, they buckled down and won every do-or-die game.
The 2019-20 season is a wash because the pandemic stopped them mid-season and there was a five-month layoff between the regular season and the “play-in” games but the two years prior were very indication of why the playoffs were a struggle.
Tough Atlantic Division is Great for Toronto Maple Leafs
During the 2017-18 and 2018-19 campaign’s, the Leafs were a lock for the playoffs, similar to last year, with about six weeks left in the year. By February, we all knew the team was going to make the playoffs and it was pretty much a guarantee that they were going to finish third in the division.
Either way, they weren’t going to get home-ice advantage and they knew they were going to play the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round on the road.
For the last 15 games, everyone was going through the motions and Toronto had nothing to really play for.
However, this season is different.
With 15 games left, Toronto knows they’re going to make the playoffs, but they could get home-ice advantage for the entire playoffs, or they could be on the road forever. Also, they have Auston Matthews fighting for a Hart Trophy, which is a huge thing to play for.
With five of the last 15 games against Tampa Bay, Florida and/or Boston, those games are essentially playoff games. The Leafs are going to be playing meaningful hockey still for the next month because they know that every point matters towards getting home-ice.
There’s a reason why most President’s Trophy winning hockey teams don’t go far in the playoffs.
It’s because they’ve usually had it easy heading into the post-season. The team’s that have something to play for late in the year are usually the ones who prevail when it matters because once the playoffs start, they already feel like they’ve been playing that type of game for the past month.
It’s just “another game” for those teams and they ride that momentum of making the postseason, which helps prepare them for a long playoff run.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will be playing every remaining game like it’s a playoff game and if they play well, that momentum should help them tremendously when the real dance happens.