Now that the Maple Leafs have sent Toronto into a frenzy with their first Stanley Cup playoff berth in nine years, it’s time for fans to get excited about the team’s Round 1 chances.
Problem is, the Leafs’ Eastern Conference quarter-final opponent might not be determined until Saturday when Toronto hosts the rival Montreal Canadiens in the final regular-season game for both clubs.
It’s possible the Maple Leafs could enter that matchup with a chance to capture the second seed in the conference.
For that unlikely occurrence to happen, the Bruins would have to lose its remaining three regular season games while Toronto would need to defeat Florida Thursday evening and have Montreal fall to Winnipeg on the same night.
The Maple Leafs then would have to beat the Canadiens in regulation on Saturday and wait for the Boston-Ottawa outcome on Sunday.
A Toronto victory on Thursday followed by a regulation win over Montreal would see the Leafs finish fourth and have home-ice advantage in a first-round meeting with the Canadiens, who only need one point in their final two games to end Toronto's hopes of grabbing the second or fourth seeds.
The Maple Leafs, with 55 points entering Thursday's game, also could finish as low as sixth, seventh or eighth. The New York Islanders, Ottawa and New York Rangers currently occupy those positions with 54, 52 and 52 points, respectively.
There is a good chance regulation plus overtime wins (ROW), the first criteria to settling a regular season tiebreaker, will come into play.
Toronto leads in ROW among the top eight teams in the East jockeying for playoff position with 25, followed by Montreal (24), Boston (23), the Islanders (20), Rangers (20) and Ottawa (19).
In short, there are multiple scenarios for the Leafs with the No. 2 seed a longshot. It appears a fourth- or fifth-place finish is likely while falling below the Islanders or Senators into sixth remains a possibility, meaning Boston, Montreal and Washington are potential first-round opponents.
An Original Six showdown between Toronto and Montreal would probably create a Stanley Cup final-like atmosphere in both cities.
There certainly would be plenty of hand-wringing by the Maple Leafs faithful eager to have their team avenge a four-game sweep at the hands of Montreal the last time they met in the post-season in April 1979.
Toronto, though, might be considered the favourite this time around because of its size and penchant for playing a more physical game.
Besides a five-game losing streak from March 7-16, the Leafs have yet to lose more than two in a row this season. They have put together one four-game win streak (Feb. 5-11) and twice have won three straight.
So, the betting here is Toronto finishes fourth, fifth or sixth, with Saturday’s game versus Montreal having an impact on playoff seeding for both squads.
Jeremy Roenick last broke the Leafs’ hearts in the playoffs on May 4, 2004, beating goalie Ed Belfour to the short side on a two-on-one break seven minutes 39 seconds into overtime to send Philadelphia to the East final.
Below is a listing of the Leafs’ head-to-head record this season against some potential first-round opponents:
- Montreal: 3-1
- Boston: 1-2-1
- Washington: 2-1
- Winnipeg: 1-1-1