The Toronto Maple Leafs did not secure their playoff spot last night, as the Flyers decided to win the game they needed to lose to help everyone out. The Leafs did their part with a win over the Florida Panthers.
The result is a playoff race in the Eastern Conference that is tightening up, just not for the Leafs. The New Jersey Devils are in the position Toronto was in last year — clinging to the last wild card and needing to keep winning more than the team chasing them.
They only have Florida after them. The Leafs did clinging to a playoff spot the hard way with Tampa on their heels. The situation now for Florida looks a bit bleak, however. They have 85 points with seven games left and New Jersey have 88 points with six games left. Technically, Columbus and Philadelphia are still involved in this race, but the chances either team loses out their remaining games are tiny.
But clinching scenarios are all about tiny edge-case chances. Toronto can only be overtaken by one team. If Florida wins every remaining game, they’d have 99 points, which is exactly what the Leafs have right now. Florida only needs five of those wins to be ROW (the first tie-breaker) for them to beat out the Leafs. Oh, yeah, one other thing. The Leafs have to lose every game for this to happen.
The next Leaf point or failure by the Panthers to get a win and that’s it.
That’s for third place.
For the wild card spot, assuming that fantastical scenario plays out, in order for the Leafs to not bump New Jersey out, the Devils have to get 11 points with five ROW or 12 points anyway they like. As soon as the Devils get to the point where they don’t have 11 possible points left, that’s it. One loss will do that or two OT losses.
Then the Leafs are out of the playoffs. A plausible worry.
With 99 points right now, the leafs only need five points to post their highest-ever point total, which would cement firmly the idea that this is the New Maple Leafs, and the past is dead. This is a very plausible hope.
While we’re here, let’s check in on the Western Conference. The Avs could have done themselves a favour by beating the Flyers, and since they didn’t, they remain out of a playoff spot. That race is grotesquely complicated with three teams ahead of them with 91 points to their 90. Anything can happen.
The race for the bottom, really looks like it’s Buffalo’s to lose by winning too much. Ottawa is three points out of last still, but Arizona is five points out. That’s too many points at this time of the year. Buffalo would have to go on a win streak to solve that for them.
New Jersey plays Pittsburgh today so if the Devils lose, that’s the Leafs in the playoffs. If they win, the Leafs can just win against the Islanders tomorrow. The Leafs control their own fate here.
The Leafs don’t control who they will play in the playoffs. That race got hot late in the season and Boston with 105 points with seven games left meets Tampa tonight, and they have 106 points with six games left. This game will decide (for now) who is first and who is second in the Atlantic, but the rest of the season might be needed to solve that question for sure.
Go for it, guys — grind it out to avoid the Leafs in the first round. Play your little hearts out.