The Toronto Maple Leafs enter the month of March as one of the NHL’s best teams, in the top five of the league standings. However, that is only good enough for third in the Atlantic Division. If the playoffs started today, this top-five team would be on the road in the opening series. The boys in blue and white have another packed schedule with 14 games in March, but only four of those contests are against current playoff teams. With the end of the regular season in sight, this month could propel Toronto to first in the division and that important number one seed in the playoffs.
The Maple Leafs aren’t just playing non-playoff teams; six games are against six of the worst teams in hockey. They host the last place, Arizona Coyotes, on Mar. 10. Toronto is in Montreal to face the 31st ranked Canadiens on Mar. 26. The expansion and 30th placed team, the Seattle Kraken, pays a visit on Mar. 8. The Buffalo Sabres are holding down 29th in the standings, and Toronto plays them twice – Mar. 2 and Mar. 13. Finally, the New Jersey Devils, currently in 27th place, are in Toronto on Mar. 23.
Atlantic Division Chase
This should be an easy 20 of a possible 28 points in March, right? Not so fast. Toronto has stumbled against losing teams. Montreal embarrassed them 5-2 on Feb. 21. The Maple Leafs followed that up by dropping one to the Columbus Blue Jackets, 17 points behind Toronto, 4-3. There was also the bizarre 10-7 game against the Detroit Red Wings; yes, the Leafs won and scored 10 goals, but to allow seven goals to the Red Wings is a concern.
To not start the playoffs in the Sunshine State, the Maple Leafs will have to leapfrog both the Florida Panthers and the back-to-back defending Stanley Cup Champions – the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Lightning has 14 more games in March. Six of those are against playoff teams, including two games against the second-best team in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes. Meanwhile, the Panthers also have 14 games, but just four of those games are against playoff teams. So the door is open for the Maple Leafs to grab first by the beginning of April.
Maple Leafs’ Games to Watch
It’s not only bad teams that Toronto plays this month; no, they will be tested on a few occasions against some of the best the league has to offer. Those games may put some distance on the Sunshine State teams.
Maple Leafs Host Florida Panthers
The Panthers are in Toronto on Mar. 27 for a four-point game. This is the first meeting of the season, and odds are they will still be neck and neck in the standings. The contest is a rare Sunday night affair, and both teams will be playing and travelling the night before. Toronto plays in Montreal, while Florida plays in Ottawa. This game will indeed be an endurance matchup, two of the best teams who will be a bit worn out from the night before. Not to mention, these two teams will meet two more times in the following three weeks.
Maple Leafs Host the Carolina Hurricanes
The measuring stick game is against the Hurricanes on Mar. 17. Sheldon Keefe has referred to the Canes as his measuring stick several times this season, and for a good reason. This team, which came up just short of the President’s Trophy last season, has been in first or very close to it all season. Carolina beat Toronto 4-1 back in Oct., but Toronto grabbed a 4-3 overtime last month. Don’t look now, but former Leafs’ goalie, Frederik Andersen is having a Vezina-like season for Carolina.
The Heritage Classic
The Maple Leafs play the Sabres on neutral turf, Tim Horton’s Field in Hamilton, Ontario, on Sunday, Mar. 13. The Heritage Classic is always fun to watch. One of the biggest highlights of the outdoor stadium game is the jersey designs. Toronto will be sporting a remake of the Toronto Arenas jersey.
There is one other day to keep an eye on this month – Mar. 21. That is the trade deadline, and it’s widely believed Toronto may still make a move to bolster the lineup before the rosters are locked for the playoffs. It’s going to be an exciting month.
Kevin Armstrong is an award-winning journalist with more than two decades of experience. He’s been rink side for World Juniors, Memorial Cups, Calder Cups and Stanley Cups. Like many Canadian kids, his earliest memories include hockey. Kevin has spent countless hours in arenas throughout the country watching all levels of the game.