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X marks the spot: How the Leafs can clinch their playoff spot

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Three days, three teams, two games each and one playoff spot up for grabs.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Toronto Maple Leafs Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

Past

The Toronto Maple Leafs have played 80 games and have 93 points. In their last set of five, they got six points, which, as you know, is Mike Babcock’s goal he set back in the fall. If they’d done it every set of five, they’d be at 96 points, so they’ve fallen only three short of the goal.

Last year after 80 games, the Leafs had 67 points and had just lost four straight games.

Present

The Leafs are in the second wild card spot with 93 points. Boston and Ottawa, who have both clinched, have 95 and 96 points respectively.

The New York Islanders and the Tampa Bay Lightning each have 90 points and they and the Leafs have two games left to play.

Future Looking Up

Boston only has one more game on Saturday afternoon against Washington. They want to win that to help ensure they don’t play Washington in the first round, a circular bit of hockey logic that doesn’t seem very promising for them.

Ottawa plays twice, a weekend back-to-back with the Rangers at home on Saturday and the Islanders on the road on Sunday. Ottawa has an opportunity to lock up second place and home ice in the first round if they stay ahead of Boston and Toronto.

Toronto is only two points behind Boston with a game in hand. Boston owns the tie-breaker, so Toronto has to get three more points in two games than Boston manages against the Capitals to take third spot. The Leafs can take second spot from the Senators, however, if they get at least three more points in the last two games than the Senators do and beat out Boston as well. Toronto owns the tiebreaker against Ottawa.

The easiest (for values of easy that include beating two top teams) way for the Leafs to take second spot is to win twice, while Ottawa and Boston lose all their games. This is one possible outcome, but not the most likely. Toronto keeping the wild card is far more likely, and requires nothing from them at all, depending on what else happens.

Future Looking Down

The Leafs, the Islanders and the Lightning can all claim the wild card spot and make the playoffs. Only the Leafs can climb higher. The Lightning cannot move up into the Atlantic division third playoff spot.

The Leafs are sitting in the wild card spot right now. They do not need two points to keep it. They can clinch the playoffs while losing both of their remaining games and finishing the season with 93 points if the Islanders and the Lightning help them out by failing to take enough points to beat them.

Friday

The Lightning play the Montréal Canadiens. If the Lightning fail to get two points, they are eliminated. If that happens, the fight is between the Leafs and the Islanders; neither team clinches by the Lightning falling. The Islanders are not eliminated by the Lightning winning.

Saturday

The Islanders play New Jersey beginning at 6 pm.

The Leafs play the Penguins beginning at 7 pm.

If the Islanders fail to take one point, they are eliminated. They need a minimum of one point from an overtime or shootout loss and two points from a regulation or overtime win in their final two games. They hold the second tie-breaker against the Leafs, so if the Leafs and the Islanders end up tied in points and ROW, the Islanders are in.

If the Leafs take one point, they might eliminate the Lightning, but not the Islanders. The Lightning also own the second tie-breaker against the Leafs so if they tie in both points and ROW, the Lightning are in. The Lightning need two ROW to do that, so how they beat the Habs would come into play here.

If the Leafs win the game in any way and take two points, we have revelry until dawn.

Sunday

Tampa plays Buffalo at 5pm.

The Islanders play Ottawa at 5pm.

The Leafs play the Blue Jackets at 6 pm.

If Tampa is still in the hunt, they must get two points. They might not beat the Islanders even if they do, but really, that’s their problem.

If the Islanders are still in it, they need to get one or two points, depending on how Saturday went for them. They are looking for three at least, while four points puts them at 94 points and eliminates the Lightning if they aren’t already. Four points does not automatically eliminate the Leafs. The Leafs must help the Islanders by taking zero points in their last two games. And a tie goes to the Islanders only if they are also tied in ROW, so shootout wins might not be enough for the Islanders.

If the Leafs haven’t clinched already, they can eliminate everyone by simply winning this game in any way they like. If they got one point from the Penguins and they get one from the Blue Jackets, they are in. If they get only one point out of those final two games, or none, they need some help to make it.

By the third period we will know for sure what the Leafs have to do to clinch.

The Simple Version

Two points and the Leafs are in, four points and the Leafs might be in third or even second place in the Atlantic. The Leafs can lose their way in with help. One point helps, but isn’t quite enough.