For the first time since 2013, the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of clinching a spot in the NHL’s postseason. To do it though, they will need a number of things to go their way on Tuesday.
With Leafs Nation hanging in the wind waiting for that ‘x’ to show up next to their team’s name in the official standings, the Leafs are preparing to take on the Washington Capitals – a team locked and loaded in their playoff preparation.
With three spots still technically up for grabs in the East, the Leafs will be looking to change that when they take to the ice on Tuesday – leaving the Bruins, Senators and Lightning to fight for the final two spots.
That being said, here’s how it can all unfold.
Leafs Not Alone in Seeking Clincher
The Maple Leafs are 8-1-1 in their last 10 games. They’ve won their last four games and seem to be finding their way over the last stretch of the season. They’ve managed to climb into the second seed in the Atlantic Division – ahead of a struggling Ottawa team – and with four games left could be looking at home-ice advantage in the first round.
The Capitals, though, will also be looking to clinch top spot in the Eastern Conference on Tuesday – which would lock up home ice for them throughout the NHL postseason.
On top of those two clubs, the Boston Bruins are also looking to punch their ticket to the playoffs which would also deal a huge blow to the Lightning’s playoff chances.
So here’s how the cards need to fall for both the Leafs and the Bruins to secure their spots.
If the Leafs win in regulation or overtime and Tampa Bay loses to the Bruins on Tuesday in any fashion, Toronto will be a playoff team. If they win in any fashion and the Lightning are defeated in regulation, the Leafs will also reach the postseason for the first time since 2013.
That being said, they will need help from the team that ousted them in 2013. The Bruins are set to take on the Lightning in a matchup on Tuesday filled with playoff implications.
The Bruins can help Toronto and their own cause with a regulation win over the Lightning. The win would give the Bruins 94 points and ownership of the possible tiebreaker (wins in regulation and overtime) if it came to that.
Leafs Led By Matthews, Rookies
For just the second time in NHL history, three rookies on the same team have hit the 60-point plateau. Auston Matthews (67), William Nylander (60) and Mitch Marner (60) have all hit the mark with Matthews leading the way in goals as well with 39.
Nazem Kadri has also had a breakout season with 31 goals and 60 points of his own. His prior career bests coming in 2013-14 when he scored 20 goals and 50 points. But it doesn’t end there.
Marner’s presence on the Tyler Bozak line has helped Bozak in bettering his career highs. Prior to the 2016-17 season, Bozak had never hit the 50-point plateau. This season, though, he finally hit the mark. In fact, in 74 games this season Bozak has 17 goals and 51 points. His previous bests came in 2013-14 and 2014-15 when he hit 49 points.
As for JVR, he’s not quite there yet. But the 27-year-old is just three points shy of his career high of 61, which he reached back in 2013-14 with the Leafs.
Regardless of how you look at it, the 2016-17 season has been a successful one for a team that was supposed to be in the midst of a multi-year rebuild. With the playoffs just on the horizon and the leaders of the team under the age of 20, there is no question that this team is on the verge of success.
Andrew is in his 8th year reporting for The Hockey Writers covering the Toronto Maple Leafs. He began his broadcasting with CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada team as well as being part of their coverage of the 2014 Winter Olympic Games in Sochi. He’s the former play-by-play voice of the London Jr. Knights for Rogers TV and currently hosts the Sticks in the 6ix podcast. You can follow him on Twitter at @AndrewGForbes.