Toronto Maple Leafs: Extended Playoff Run Starts With Division Title

Toronto Maple Leafs jersey (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
Toronto Maple Leafs jersey (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images) /

The Toronto Maple Leafs have the longest current streak of making the Stanley Cup playoffs, tied with their division rival the Boston Bruins.

The Toronto Maple Leafs seven consecutive postseason appearances is a nice number, but they haven’t always put themselves in an ideal position concerning playoff seeding.

The lone exception was the short-lived all-Canadian division of 2020-2021. The Leafs marched to the division title during that pandemic-affected season but blew a 3-1 series lead to the Montreal Canadiens.

While winning a division title does not guarantee postseason success (ask last year’s record-setting Bruins or the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning), it makes the road a little easier.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Extended Playoff Run Starts With Division Title

The Leafs finally reached the second round during last year’s playoffs as the number two seed in the Atlantic Division.

After eliminating the perennial contending Lightning, and having a home-ice advantage against the wild-card Florida Panthers, the Leafs got caught up in the euphoria of finally winning a playoff round and could not overcome an early series deficit.

This year the Atlantic division is there for the taking. The Panthers have to start the season with key defensive players on the long-term injured list.

The seemingly forever strong lineups of the Bruins and Lightning are finally showing cracks in the armor.

The aging Lightning have to start the season with star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy on LTIR. They also have a potential distraction with the contract status of Steven Stamkos.

The Bruins have to navigate a new season without heart-and-soul captain Patrice Bergeron due to his retirement. Proven playoff performer David Krejci also retired.

One should not count either team out, but they are not as strong as in previous years.

Previous bottom-dwellers of the Atlantic, the Ottawa Senators, and Buffalo Sabres should continue their ascent, but expecting them to challenge for a division title is unrealistic.

Add it all up, and this is the Leafs best chance at an Atlantic Division title in years.

Toronto Maple Leafs Need to Shake October Doldrums

A fast start is usually a prerequisite to a division title. In prior years, the Leafs have missed this memo.

They have a very middling October record over the last ten years, especially when compared to their overall points percentage during this time.

In the two most recent seasons, the Leafs first-round opponent (Lightning) was determined well in advance of the playoffs, because NHL standings tend not to fluctuate much after the first six weeks of the season.

This is especially true with the advent of three-point games thanks to overtime and shootout losses. The Leafs start to the season thus becomes all the more important.

A look at the October schedule shows it won’t be easy. The Leafs have a five-game road trip against the Panthers, Lightning, Washington Capitals, Dallas Stars, and Nashville Predators. A trip to the Bruins follows early in November.

A fast start, say 14 points over their first ten games, is what the Leafs should strive for. They can’t afford a lackluster beginning to the year.

Most recent seasons have seen the Leafs chasing their Atlantic division counterparts. It has left them with difficult first-round opponents (aside from the pandemic-affected seasons).

The Toronto Maple Leafs need to start the year with a sense of urgency. Get out in front of your division rivals and have them chase you.

What the Leafs Should Look Like On Opening Night. dark. Next

A home-ice advantage and wild-card opponent increase the chances of a long-awaited playoff run, one with a silver lining.