At this point, there are basically five teams left whose performance is of interest to the Leafs in their playoff hunt: Ottawa, Boston, Tampa Bay, Carolina, and the New York Islanders. The latter four teams are all playing today.
Boston Bruins at Chicago Blackhawks, 12:30 PM ET
Who to cheer for: Chicago.
Boston is a point back of the Leafs, with one more game played. As it stands, Ottawa (91 points), Toronto (91), and Boston (90) are in a three-way duel to divide up the second and third Atlantic seeds and the second Eastern wild card.
Unless Tampa Bay (86) is able to make a charge and crash the party, the second and third Atlantic teams will play each other, while the second wild card will likely get destroyed by the Washington Capitals in round one. Also, between the two, Ottawa looks like a weaker opponent for the Leafs than Boston—especially with Erik Karlsson currently injured.
So anything that pushes Boston down is to our benefit. Unfortunately, the Blackhawks have already clinched first in the West, so we’re going to have to hope they play hard for pride.
New York Islanders at Buffalo Sabres, 3:00 ET
Who to cheer for: Buffalo. I know, I’m not happy about it either.
The Islanders’ playoff hopes are hanging by a thread; they’re sitting at 84 points, seven back of the Leafs and six back of Boston with five games to play. If the Isles lose in regulation twice, they’re eliminated. If they lose today, they’re already in the space of essentially needing to run the table while the teams ahead of them lose out. Which is unlikely. Buffalo can put the Islanders out of our concern with a win.
Carolina Hurricanes at Pittsburgh Penguins, 5:00 ET
Watch: NHL-N US
Who to cheer for: Pittsburgh.
Carolina is in the same boat as the Islanders (84 points) but with one less ROW. Nothing much else to say. Finish ‘em off, Sid.
Dallas Stars at Tampa By Lightning, 6:00 ET
Watch: Fox Sports Southwest
Who to cheer for: Dallas.
This is the big one. Tampa Bay is the only remaining team who has a realistic shot of putting the Leafs totally out of the playoffs. They’re five points back of Toronto (86 points to Toronto’s 91), and to begin this season, they were favoured to finish near the top of the Atlantic. A devastating cascade of injuries has held them back most of the year, but a Hart-worthy performance by Nikita Kucherov has brought them to them back to the edges of the hunt, and Steven Stamkos has been practicing with the team (though he won’t play today.) They’re facing an uphill battle, but by no means an impossible one.
So, considering we want first and foremost the Leafs to make the playoffs, this is the most important game. Go Stars Go.
(All channels are as per NHL.com, and may not be accurate because they’re like that.)