Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Leafs Win! Leafs Win!

The playoff hopes are still alive. The Leafs survived a big test against the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, setting up a huge two-game set against the Montreal Canadians later this week. Thanks to a Montreal Canadians loss, and a New Jersey loss, the Eastern Conference playoff race tightened up somewhat. Boston held a 4-2 lead halfway through the 3rd on Atlanta, but couldn't hang on, losing 5-4 in a shootout, allowing Atlanta to jump into the 8th and final playoff spot.

The Leafs closed the gap tonight. They are starting to play well, sitting at 5-3 in the last eight games. There is very little room for error left in the season. If they can pull out the two wins against Montreal, they'll be right back in the mix.

The Leaf's best bet to keep winning, and hope one of New Jersey, Atlanta or Tampa Bay falters enough to let them slip in to the final playoff spot.

Atlanta is one of the hottest teams in the League right now, so the Leafs will do well to keep up with them. Atlanta has three games against Tampa Bay, so if Atlanta keeps winning, the Lightning will slip at least a little bit. Unfortunately, it looks like Tampa Bay has the easiest schedule remaining - 6 games against the Penguins, Capitals and Panthers

New Jersey looks like the most likely candidate to slip in the standings during the final weeks of the playoff race. The Leafs have one head-to-head matchup against the Devils, on Sunday. The Devils also have matchups against Ottawa, Atlanta, Buffalo, three against the Flyers, two against the Canadians, and, finally, one against the Rangers. Given that nine of their remaining fourteen matchups are going to be tough, New Jersey will be hard-pressed to play .500 hockey at best (7-7), which would leave them with 90 points.

To sum it up, the odds are stacked against the Leafs, but it looks like they're are starting to play their best hockey of the year when they need it the most. If New Jersey goes 7-7, and the Leafs go 10-3-1, the Leafs will squeek in by the thinnest of margins.

#6. Tampa Bay (69 Games Played - 36-28-5 - 77 Points)
13 Games Remaing
Maximum Points Available: 103 Points
Expected: 92 Points (43 - 33 - 6)

#7. New Jersey (68 Games Played - 34-26-8 - 76 Points)
14 Games Remaining
Maximum Points Available: 104 Points
Expected: 91 Points (41 - 32 - 9)

#7. Atlanta (69 Games Played - 34-29-6 - 74 Points)
13 Games Remaining
Maximum Points Available: 100 Points
Expected: 87 Points (40 - 35 - 7)

#9. Montreal (68 Games Played - 32-27-9- 73 Points)
14 Games Remaining
Maximum Points Available: 104 Points
Expected: 85 Points (38 - 33 - 11)

#10. Toronto (68 Games Played - 32-30-6 - 70 Points)
14 Games Remaining
Maximum Points Available: 98 Points
Expected: 85 Points (39 - 36 - 7)