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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Majestic 70 Mark Still Within Reach For Matthews

The scene at the Key Bank Center in Buffalo, when Auston Matthews scored his 60th goal, was something to behold.

An eruption for the Leafs and Matthews as the "road" team that would make Scotiabank Arena envious. Fans of the blue and white packed the house in hopes of seeing Matthews reach the milestone.

He didn't disappoint.

Talk of Matthews reaching 70 goals has been ongoing since before the midway mark of the regular season. For it to still be a topic of discussion with nine games remaining speaks to the otherworldly year Matthews is having.

His next goal will break his Leafs franchise record of 60 in a season. Should he score a couple more this week, the push for 70 will heighten. Two or three games without a goal and it's wise to pick a spot for Matthews to sit a game and rest for the playoffs.

The Return of Marner and Rielly and Lineup Adjustments

Should Mitch Marner have no issues following a full midweek practice, he appears destined to return against the Lightning on Wednesday.

That should help Matthews in his pursuit of 70 goals. More importantly, the Leafs special teams will get a boost. Marner is a major fixture on both. Most significantly, a return to the ice to get his timing and conditioning back is a must before the playoffs start.

Rielly will also help the special teams. Plus, he is the Leafs best defenseman who logs the most minutes. The injury status of Timothy Liljegren and Joel Edmundson, meanwhile, is to be determined.

The trickle-down effect on the rest of the lineup will be noteworthy. It's time for the Leafs to make decisions on their best lineup for Game 1 of the playoffs.

Ryan Reaves should sit. Nick Robertson, Connor Dewar, and Pontus Holmberg offer more flexibility within the lineup and have value on special teams. It will also be a compelling decision for Sheldon Keefe should Calle Jarnkrok return and another forward has to come out of the lineup.

Rielly, T.J. Brodie, Jake McCabe, and Liljegren should be in the lineup to start the playoffs. Ilya Lyubushkin, Edmundson, and Simon Benoit all bring similar elements. Conor Timmins can be in reserve should extra puck-moving skills be required.

There remain enticing decisions to be made over the last handful of games.