The Toronto Maple Leafs are currently a point behind the two Eastern Conference wild-card spots in the standings and will need a big week against their division if they want to recapture one of those spots.
A recent four-game losing streak saw the Maple Leafs fall out of a playoff position for the first time all season before Toronto managed to snap the skid with a 3-2 shootout victory over the New Jersey Devils. Unfortunately, the damage was already done courtesy of the losing streak as Toronto is now one of seven teams within three points of a wild-card playoff berth.
With so many teams competing for a playoff spot, the Maple Leafs will need to find a way to climb the standings by defeating teams within their own division. Toronto’s upcoming schedule sees the team face three of their Atlantic Division rivals including a visit to face the Boston Bruins followed by hosting the Buffalo Sabres the next night on Jan. 15. Then the Maple Leafs will close out the week by hosting the Montreal Canadiens on Jan. 18. Toronto has only gone 6-5-2 against their division and have already lost to all three of their upcoming opponents this season.
The Bruins have defeated the Maple Leafs in Toronto and Boston this season while outscoring them 8-3 in the two contests. Playing in Boston to begin the week will no doubt bring back memories of last season’s playoff collapse for the Maple Leafs, but perhaps that is the type of extra motivation needed for the club. Since the Bruins have owned Toronto in recent years, if the Maple Leafs could somehow find a way to emerge victorious in Boston it could be the morale boost needed to make a run before the Olympic break. There’s no doubt beating the Bruins for the first time since the playoff series would be a big emotional win for the Maple Leafs and could lead to Toronto climbing the standings.
Playing Buffalo this season has often resulted in easy points for most of the league, however, it’s been absolute torture for the Maple Leafs. Toronto has played the Sabres four times this season, swapping home-ice each game, but they’ve only managed a record of 2-1-1. The Maple Leafs blew a third period lead in the last meeting but managed to escape with a shootout victory. If Toronto doesn’t take Buffalo seriously like they’ve failed to do so earlier in the year, then the team will once again miss out on big points in the standings.
When the Canadiens come to visit the Maple Leafs it could be a game that has a big impact in the standings for the remainder of the season. Montreal is currently eight points ahead of Toronto in the standings, and depending on what happens in the two games the clubs play earlier in the week before facing each other, it could see the Canadiens gain a lead too great for the Maple Leafs to overcome. If Toronto loses and finds themselves double-digit points behind Montreal in the division then it is unlikely the Maple Leafs would be able to ever catch the Canadiens. However, if Toronto somehow pulls within five or six points of Montreal anything could happen between now and the end of the season with how tight the race is in the standings. A bad week by the Canadiens and a good week by the Maple Leafs could easily see Toronto sneak up on Montreal.
If the Maple Leafs have any chance of recapturing a wild-card spot, they’ll need to take care of business against their division rivals first.