The Standings in the Atlantic Division on New Year’s Eve are pretty bleak for the Leafs, to say the least. Which is to say, if you’re hoping to see them move on from the 1st round in the playoffs, you probably don’t want them to face off against the Tampa Bay Lightning again. They’re a tough opponent at the best of times, but are nearly impossible to beat when Vasilevskiy decides to go into playoff-cheat-mode and allow 1 or less goals in game 7. However, that’s exactly where things stand at the moment. This is how it stacks up:
Boston: 59pts (35GP)
Toronto: 50pts (36GP)
Tampa Bay: 45pts (34GP)
Detroit: 37pts (34GP)
Buffalo: 36pts (33GP)
Florida: 36pts (37GP)
Ottawa: 35pts (35GP)
Montreal: 33pts (36GP)
At this point it’s safe to say that Montreal and Ottawa won’t be involved in the post season this spring. The final wild card spot belongs to the New York Islanders as of this morning, but they’re tied with Pittsburgh and the New York Rangers at 44pts a piece. Also, surprisingly, you can probably add the Florida Panthers to the list of “out of it” teams. They’re 8pts back and don’t have any games in hand, which puts them at a severe disadvantage when you consider the current point system used by the NHL. While it is possible for Detroit or Buffalo to get into the wild card race (they’re 7 and 8pts back, respectively, with 3 and 4 games in hand, respectively), it’s unlikely that they catch any of Boston, Toronto or Tampa Bay.
The Leafs, at the moment, are very nearly locked in to play against Tampa yet again in the 1st round of the playoffs. With 2 games in hand and being 5pts back of the Buds, the race is neck-and-neck. At the same time, being a staggering 9 and 14pts back from Boston for 1st in the Atlantic, before the halfway mark of the season has passed, means that neither are likely to pass the Bruins in the standings. Now, I know there are a lot of games to play and a lot of things can change, but you’re basically hoping for a massive hot streak from the Leafs and for the Bruins to turn into a pumpkin at the same time. Yes, crazier things have happened in sports (just consider that, once upon a time, a zamboni driver beat a profession NHL team), but when those crazy things happen it is consistently the Leafs that are the team left looking foolish. If anything, I think it more likely that the Leafs go on a long losing streak, fall out of the top 3 and end the year fighting for a wild card spot. That isn’t to say that I expect that to happen, but if I had to choose between the options of passing Boston or falling out of the top 3 in the Atlantic, I’m putting my money on this team failing, as it appears to come so naturally to them.
My expectations, at this point in time, are much more simple. There will be ups and downs, but at the end of the day they’ll stay right where they are, fighting for home ice advantage against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The only question for me is, when the puck drops on the post season this spring, which city will the games be played in?