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Toronto Maple Leafs v. Washington Capitals

Tonight the Leafs' renew acquaintances with the Capitals light one Alex Ponikarovsky (shoulder) and heavy one Wade Belak. With Belak in the lineup the team goes from supersoft to only soft. Tonight, Belak has a job to do and Eminger has a duty as a player that laid a dirty hit so in theory there should be one clean fight tonight. That will probably be the highlight of the game.

Tonight's will be one more result that will enter into Fletcher's decision-making process as to what steps to take to clear the decks for his full-time replacement. The recent run of six good games has managed to confuse Leaf fans. Penaltyshotsca wrote an excellent diary with a good theory about what steps the Leafs should take and why they should not relegate themselves to being sellers at the deadline. Here I've posted the tank sidebar that tracks how close the Leafs are to the top pick in the entry draft but I definitely started the season filled with hope. A comment by Evening News Team sums up how I would guess most fans feel:

I do not like they way this season is going at all.  I really, really want the Leafs to make the playoffs.  I miss hockey during the Spring thaw.  I love when a game starts at 7:00 and the sun is still out.  I want to not be able to move while the game is being played, fearing my movement will somehow affect the cosmic karma of the hockey universe.  On the other hand, I want the Leafs to tank.  Getting Stamkos or Doughty would be awesome.  A complete overhaul with new faces and new attitudes is what they need.

The issue is whether you think that the team as constructed can win the Stanley Cup. Do you think that they can beat Detroit or Anaheim after three rounds of a gruelling playoff run? I do not and so I want to see changes made for the long-term benefit of the team. Can they make the playoffs? With no changes and the return of McCabe and Carlo and the continued improved effort from the rest of the team? Yes, they have the ability to do it long-term I want a Stanley Cup over playoff appearances.

Here's a look at what the standings could look like tomorrow if the Leafs win, the other teams in the hunt lose, and Atlanta beats the Rangers:

Rank Team GP PTS
8th Boston 49 53
9th NY Rangers 51 52
10th Atlanta 52 51
11th Toronto 51 50
12th Washington 50 49
13th Florida 51 48

Now that's if everything breaks the right way for the Leafs tonight. Don't forget that they have the toughest remaining schedule of any team in the Eastern Conference too. Is that enough to stop Fletcher from making trades, specifically the Sundin one? Maybe not yet but every win makes it more likely that the big change won't happen. It doesn't mean that Tucker, McCabe, and others might not get traded but it would be that much harder to convince Mats to waive his NTC if the Leafs keep winning. In the long-term, every win could hurt.

Remember to put your guesses for who will score take the first shot, get the first penalty, and score the first goal in the comments. I'll keep a running tally of the results in the right sidebar. If you're new to the site and want to take part, try it out because I'll be running a contest until the end of the year after the all-star break.

As always, the comment section is a wonderful place to vent and rage between periods or make hopeful predictions that you can tout in the future if they happen to come to pass. Each period and overtime/shootout gets their own section so just reply to the relevant section's main post. There have been a lot of new visitors of the last few days so if you want to comment all you have to do is set up an account so register and share your thoughts.