If the Toronto Maple Leafs hope to return to the playoffs this season then the team will need to continue its recent success against their Floridian divisional opponents.
In the past two weeks Toronto has faced both the Tampa Bay Lightning and Florida Panthers twice while managing to record six points in the four games. The Maple Leafs managed to beat the Lightning at home and on the road, however, despite defeating Florida at the Air Canada Centre, Toronto couldn’t make it a 4-0 perfect sweep against the teams from the state of Florida.
The missed opportunity against the Panthers was costly, but it was forgiven as gaining four points over the Lightning in the standings was an impressive accomplishment. The Maple Leafs are now only one point behind Tampa Bay for second place in the Atlantic Division, with one game remaining for both teams before the Olympic break. Although the Lightning have played two fewer games than the Maple Leafs, if they aren’t victorious in their final game they could be looking up at Toronto in the standings once the two-week break begins.
Regardless of what happens before the break, the Maple Leafs’ success against Tampa Bay and Florida after the Olympics could be a major factor in determining their playoff hopes. Toronto will play the Lightning twice before the end of the season with both teams taking turns as the host. The Maple Leafs will also travel to Florida for their final meeting of the year with the Panthers after already losing twice to Florida this season.
There’s no question if Toronto wants to still be playing in the spring they can’t lose another two points to Florida this year. They’ve been embarrassed twice by the Panthers and the Maple Leafs need to avenge those losses by evening the season series at 2-2. Toronto will face Florida in their second last game of the season, a game that could determine their playoff fate or potentially even home-ice advantage.
If the Maple Leafs have any shot of home-ice advantage they’ll need to pass Tampa Bay in the standings to achieve it. The Lightning will be extremely motivated to defeat Toronto in their final two meetings this season given the two losses to the Maple Leafs already this year. It’s unlikely Toronto could sweep the season series, however, splitting the final two games with a win and a loss could be all the Maple Leafs need to overtake Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference.
After posting a 3-1 winning record against the Florida state teams in the last two weeks, Toronto will need to continue their success against Tampa Bay and Florida after the Olympic break. With three games remaining against the division rivals, the Maple Leafs need at least four points if they hope to get closer to earning a playoff berth in the Eastern Conference.