They may have been a dot in the rearview a month ago, but all of a sudden the men from Toronto wake up just four points out of a playoff spot, with 21 games to make up the gap.
The February hot streak has become something of an annual rite for the Leafs, who invariably manage to come up just short of actually making the postseason, but centre Tyler Bozak was unequivocal when asked if the Leafs must be taken seriously after Thursday's 5-4 win against Montreal.
Another truism of the Maple Leafs' post-New Year's record is that they are atrocious is January which puts them so far behind the eight ball that they can never recover. In fact, if you look at their performance in the post-lockout period you can easily identify when the pressure to make the playoffs was lifted:
The cynical thing would be to suggest that this is solely because the Leafs were left for dead. Actually, let's call that the truthful thing to do. The other aspect is that those records came as the Leafs were either preparing to or had dumped a number of veterans and replaced them with kids and journeymen. So far the buds have shipped out their best defenceman in Francois Beauchemin, their fifth top scorer in Kris Versteeg, and one of the top-ten defenceman in scoring in Tomas Kaberle and they just keep winning.
This season has seen the Leafs tread water in January with a 6-6-1 record but vault back into playoff contention on the back of a 7-2-2 February with three games remaining. Combined with teams sputtering ahead of them the Leafs' playoff chances have soared to 4.7%. On top of having to continue to play as well as they have as the pressure to make the playoffs mounts, they'll need every bit of an advantage. Dirk Hoag had a great post looking at each team's strength of schedule down the stretch. Ultimately, this run may do nothing more than bump the Bruins' pick down the first round and that'll be great.
So while it's still a long shot by any measure - just look at the Leafs' March schedule - it's definitely time to start scoreboard watching. Tonight, that means cheering on the Red Wings and Canadiens (ewwww). And for cripe's sake, no three point games please.