Toronto Maple Leafs Tidbits and Reflections as the Playoffs Draw Near

From Auston Matthews' pursuit of the 70-goal mark, the return of Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly, and games against two playoff-bound Atlantic Division rivals, there is no shortage of storylines to follow as the Leafs season winds down.

Mar 30, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA;  Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) reacts after scoring his 60th goal of the season against the Sabres. Matthews' chase for 70 goals will be a story to watch as the NHL regular season winds down.
Mar 30, 2024; Buffalo, New York, USA; Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews (34) reacts after scoring his 60th goal of the season against the Sabres. Matthews' chase for 70 goals will be a story to watch as the NHL regular season winds down. / Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
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The Toronto Maple Leafs are down to the final three weeks of regular season play with only nine games left to play on the schedule.

The Toronto Maple Leafs have games against current non-playoff teams the Montreal Canadiens, Pittsburgh Penguins, New Jersey Devils, and Detroit Red Wings are sandwiched between a set of back-to-back contests against the playoff-bound Florida Panthers and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are now a virtual lock to also make the postseason.

It all starts this week with the Panthers and Lightning visiting Scotiabank Arena. The Leafs close the season with a trip to the Sunshine State and return matches against their Atlantic Division rivals on April 16th and April 17th.

The games against the Panthers and Lightning will be of particular interest to see how the Leafs stack up against a couple of formidable foes. One (the Panthers) is the Stanley Cup favorite of many, while the other (Lightning) is loaded with championship pedigree. It's one of many interesting Leafs subplots as the Stanley Cup playoffs draw near.

The Atlantic Division is Up For Grabs

For all of their inconsistencies throughout the year, the Leafs are still in the race for first place in the Atlantic Division. It is a long shot, but a path remains.

The question is, how much will the Leafs push themselves to achieve it? Should they upset the Panthers on home ice with a makeshift lineup missing stars Mitch Marner and Morgan Rielly, it would certainly get interesting.

The Leafs could draw within four points of the Panthers with a game in hand. The Leafs also have two games in hand on the Boston Bruins. Winning both of those extra games would also narrow the gap with the Bruins to four points. The Bruins and Panthers also have a head-to-head game remaining, meaning a loss for one of them.

That's a lot of "ifs" that need to go the Leafs way, but the slight possibility remains to get a higher seed and home-ice advantage for the start of the playoffs.

The Lightning have heated up down the stretch and are now only four points behind the Leafs. Coasting down the stretch could see the Leafs drop to a wild-card position for the postseason.

Even if the Leafs don't move up in the standings and with little separation between the Bruins and Panthers, their definitive first-round opponent may not be known for some time.