A week ago, it would’ve been preposterous to even question whether the Toronto Maple Leafs were going to qualify for the post-season this year. The Buds were sitting top three in the Atlantic and seemingly in control of a playoff spot – they even won two of three in California, where Eastern Conference teams go to die.
Since the successful trip through Cali the Leafs have dropped four straight in regulation and the rest of the pack has basically caught up. What’s worse, the four straight losses came at the hands of two chasing clubs: the Washington Capitals and Detroit Red Wings; and two competitors for a top three spot in the Atlantic: the Canadiens and the Lightning.
The Leafs have 80 points on the season, situating them in the first of two available wild card spots in the Eastern Conference. In the second and final wild card spot the Detroit Red Wings have 79 points. On the outside looking in, the Washington Capitals have 79 points, as well, and the Columbus Blue Jackets have 78.
The Wings and Jackets have two games in hand on the Leafs, with twelve remaining. The Leafs have ten games left to play, as do the Washington Capitals.
Making matters worse for the Leafs: they’ll likely need to qualify cleanly without relying on a tiebreaker. The first tiebreaker in the standings is regulation/OT wins and the Leafs have the second least of those in the bunch.
Leafs have 27 wins not including shootout victories. The Wings have 28, Blue Jackets have 30, and Capitals have 25, placing the latter in the worst position to earn a spot in the post-season.
The Leafs play the New Jersey Devils tonight in a game they absolutely must win to keep pace in the East. The Red Wings and Blue Jackets also play today, and should both clubs earn two points and the Leafs lose in regulation, Toronto will be knocked out of the playoff picture.
The Leafs four-game losing streak has coincided with the loss of starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier. TSN Leafs reporter Jonas Siegel confirmed today that Bernier will not start in New Jersey tonight.
For those that missed it last night, Jonathan Bernier did not travel to Jersey and will miss his fifth straight game tonight (groin).
— Jonas Siegel (@jonasTSN1050) March 23, 2014