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Thursday’s FTB: Is tonight the return of Jake Gardiner?

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Or even Jake Muzzin?

Toronto Maple Leafs v St Louis Blues Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images

The Leafs don’t really have much to play for after clinching a playoff spot against the New York Islanders on Monday. Coincidentally, neither do their opponents tonight who basically clinched a playoff spot in December.

There are some individual things to keep members of the team going. John Tavares is three goals away from 50, Auston Matthews is three goals away from 40, and if Kasperi Kapanen pots one more, he’ll be the seventh Leaf to reach 20.

It also goes beyond individual production as well. Calle Rosen has been good in his first two games since being called up, Travis Dermott had his ups and downs, and even Nikita Zaitsev has been less noticeable. Additionally, tonight’s game could be an opportunity for another Leafs defenceman to get their legs going before the playoffs, that being Jake Gardiner.

Gardiner has missed the last 18 games with back spasms and could be back in the lineup given what we’ve seen and heard from the team. Sight-wise, he’s moved from the no-contact red jersey to a ‘good-to-go’ black jersey at team practice. Hearing-wise, Babcock dropped a few lines at previous scrums voicing his hope to have Gardiner in to play the final two games of the season, and here we are.

All signs are pointing to that hope becoming a reality, but it won’t be until after morning skate when a definitive answer is given.

Whether it’s correlation or causation, the Leafs have been giving up more goals since Gardiner has been out and the Dermott injury didn’t help things in that category either. He adds far more mobility and offensive instinct from the blueline and it’ll be good to possibly see the Leafs at full strength ahead of the playoffs.

Does Babcock bench Rosen for Gardiner if he’s good to go? It’s likely, but I’d like to find a way to have both play. Then again, this is Tampa we’re talking about and he’ll likely try to push the excitement in the room as much as he can (emphasis on push).

Hopefully Gardiner is a part of that and walks out of the locker room like Ash in Pokemon the First Movie.

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