The Toronto Maple Leafs and their diehard fans couldn’t have asked for anything more after an unbelievable victory against the Detroit Red Wings at Michigan Stadium, aka The Big House, on a snowy New Year’s Day in Ann Arbor. With so any ups and downs throughout the game for both squads, it was tough to figure out who had the momentum at any given moment and for how long. However, when the game finished with a Toronto victory, it wasn’t hard to figure out that the Leafs were the team that would carry the hot hand into their next game.
This is exactly what will happen when the New York Rangers make their way into what will be a very raucous and thankful Air Canada Centre in Toronto on Saturday night. The Leafs and their fans are currently buzzing atop cloud nine, and for very good reason. They were victorious in what was the largest-attended NHL hockey game ever, they are winners of their last three games and they currently hold on uncharacteristic 14-8-1 record at home. All of these factors will prove to make it tough for the Rangers to win on the road in ‘The Big Smoke’.
All Winter Classic buzz aside, the Leafs have to be confident in the way they have played as of late. Sniper Phil Kessel seems to be skating better than ever, and fellow USA Hockey Olympian James van Riemsdyk has come into his own over the past few games as well. The team also seems to have finally made Jonathan Bernier their No. 1 goaltender after he has shown that he can more often than not stand on his head in goal, especially since the Leafs are brutally outshot by their opponents on a nightly basis. Not to mention the acquisition of veteran defenseman Tim Gleason from the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for John-Michael Liles. The energy currently surrounding the Leafs is something the team needs to rally around in order to better themselves into a top three finish in the Atlantic Division rather than settling for a playoff berth via wild card, something that no team should rely on.
Adding to the drama on Saturday night should be the fact that the Rangers are trying to catch the Leafs for one of those two very Eastern Conference playoff wild card spots. Along with that, the Rangers also managed to beat the Leafs in a shootout to start the Christmas break at Madison Square Garden, so redemption at home will be a must for ‘The Buds’.
Coming into Saturday night, the Leafs are the team that everyone in hockey seems to be talking about. The players themselves and their fans both braved the elements in what was the most successful and all out wild of the Winter Classics to date. They also have sole possession of the first wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and look to further improve and push their way up the standings over the second half of the season. All of this and then some will help keep the Leafs on the roll that they are currently on, no matter who they come across in the near and far future. First up, the New York Rangers at home.