With the regular season winding down and the playoffs just a few weeks away the races for the final three playoff spots is on. As of today there are 3 teams in the East and 5 teams in the West with a realistic shot of making the grade. But no matter what the outcome you can be assured of one thing: the Leafs will do everything in their power to ensure they avoid any chance of selecting in the top 5 in the draft.
It’s a sad but true reality in this era of sub-mediocrity in hockey’s capital city. So in keeping with the tradition of Leafs Nation it is now time to take a look at those teams fighting for their playoff lives and determines which ones should receive invitations Quarterfinal Classic and join the Leafs on the links to start the postseason.
Today, the east:
Ottawa Senators: Never underestimate the power of the Moustache. The rest of the league did a few months ago and now its power has spread, covering more than just a lip. Bad goaltending and questionable defence now fall under the protection of the almighty soup-strainer, often beaten but somehow the puck stays out of the net. Capable of running red hot or Daigle cold, this team could go either way, however are most likely in the post season thanks to the early season vacations taken by Ryan Miller and Alex Ovechkin.
Over the final five games the Islanders and Canes should be an easy 3-4 points but playing host to Boston and visiting Philly and New Jersey could spell an early end to the season. Chances: 7/10
Washington: A quick glance at their remaining games, (Buf, Bos, Mtl, TBL, Fla, NYR) and it is hard to imagine the Caps falling short of that final spot if they manage a win against the Sabres tonight. The sudden reemergence of Ovechkin is likely all the Caps need to push them over the edge. Goaltending is the question mark, without Vokoun the likely hood of a postseason berth drops faster than the Wild. Chances: 5/10
Buffalo: New owner? Check. Inflated contracts? Check. Top end goalie? Check. Breakout seasons? Check. Yep the Sabres are on a path similar by the Montreal Canadiens when they made a push deep into the playoffs 2 years ago. Their biggest game of the year comes tonight against the very team they are tied with. After this game however, things look decidedly more grim: Pittsburgh, Philly, Boston. Only a home and home against the wilted Leafs offers much hope to the Sabres. If they manage to take 4-5 of these games it would be a miracle, but 3 may be all they need to make it to playoffs. It may all come down to tonight. Chances: 4/10
Beyond these three teams you have an honorable mention: The Jets, still alive mathematically, have decided to further their borderline copyright infringement of the Leafs. First it was the Leaf in the middle of the sweater, the predominately Blue and White colour scheme and entire roster comprised of former Buds. Now it is the late season collapse including losing big games on home ice. Where will it end?
So with the East pretty much decided, Leafs nation sits. Waiting. And or the first time in many years there seems to be little to look forward to next year.East