3 Things the Maple Leafs Must Accomplish During the Final Week

The Toronto Maple Leafs wrap up a historic regular season this week with just two games remaining on the schedule. Despite already claiming a franchise record for points and wins in a season, the team still has a lot to play for before the final horn of game number 82.

Home Ice Advantage

Incredibly, a team with 111 points still does not have home-ice secured for the first round of the playoffs. Toronto maintains a five-point lead over the Tampa Bay Lightning for the number two seed in the Atlantic Division. However, the Buds have a pair of games left, while the defending Stanley Cup Champions have a trio of games.

Toronto Maple Leafs Celebrate
Toronto Maple Leafs Celebrate (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Sure, the math is still in Toronto’s favour, but Tampa Bay is arguably the hottest team in the NHL right now. The Maple Leafs saw that first hand when they were destroyed 8-1 last week by the Lightning. Since then, the Lightning has gone on to win 6-2 over Nashville and hand the Atlantic champion Florida Panthers an 8-4 loss. Again, 22 goals in three games and they play two of their final three against the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team that’s given up 288 goals against this season, ranking 27th overall in that category. The Lightning then plays the New York Islanders in the finale; the Isles have lost five straight.

Related: Maple Leafs’ Weakest Link Can Save the Team

After a gruelling road trip, Toronto returns home and needs one win or two points out of the final two games to seal the deal and secure home-ice advantage. But, there’s a problem; the games are against the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday and the Boston Bruins on Friday. The Maple Leafs have played terribly against bad teams down the stretch.

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The Red Wings are not that good this season and certainly will want to give their Atlantic division rivals a proper send-off to the postseason. Then there is the final game of the season, the Boston Bruins. There is not much explanation needed on this one. Even if the game is meaningless for points, it could be a second-round preview, and both teams will want to hit the postseason with momentum.

Marner Aiming for the Century Mark

The cliché line will always be that individual statistics don’t matter, and it’s all about the team. At the best of times, that’s hard to believe, but Mitch Marner is just three points shy of becoming the fourth player in franchise history to hit the century mark. This guy has been beaten up since signing his big contract, he is a player who was being grilled for a slow start this season, and he is a lifelong Maple Leafs’ fan. Make no mistake, hitting 100 points will mean something to Marner.

Mitch Marner Toronto Maple Leafs
Mitch Marner, Toronto Maple Leafs (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

However, suppose Toronto wins against the Red Wings and secures home-ice advantage. In that case, Sheldon Keefe may be resting some of his players for the final game. Marner was a healthy scratch in the season finale one year ago, and Keefe may want to give him a rest this season too. Keefe did rest John Tavares against Washington, and Auston Matthews was held out of the lineup with an undisclosed injury. But what if Marner hasn’t hit the century mark by the final game?

Matthews Goes for 60, and the Rocket

After sitting out three games with an undisclosed injury, Matthews recently returned to the lineup after sitting out three games. Since going on a white-hot streak that saw him set the franchise scoring record and gain a comfortable lead in the scoring race. Matthews has returned to earth. He hasn’t scored in his last five games. Meanwhile, Leon Draisaitl has crept back into the picture and is now just three goals behind Matthews heading into the final week. However, the Edmonton Oilers have three games providing an ample opportunity for Draisaitl to take the Maurice Rocket Richard trophy. Matthews is also trying to become the first 60-goal scorer since Steven Stamkos did it in the 2011-12 season.

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Just one more, Michael Bunting currently has a four-point lead among rookies, but he is now day-to-day with an undisclosed injury. That will make things interesting for the Calder Trophy. Did this article raise your anxiety for the final week? You might as well get used to it with the postseason just days away; the anxiety level for Leafs’ nation will be at a fever pitch.