Thursday, March 22, 2007

The East's Eighth Will Be No Chump

If (or when, for the half full crowd) the Leafs make the playoffs, I have a really good feeling about their prospects. Whichever team does takes the eighth and final Eastern spot will have damn well earned that berth. There are five teams looking for the last two spots (I'm assuming Tampa will get their act together), and you can be sure whoever gets there won't crawl in on their knees.

True, eighth isn't the hottest place to be, it's a invitation to Buffalo after all, but under my logic, if you can play the next ten games well enough to lock up a playoff spot, you can at least give the number one team in the NHL a good show.

New York, New York, Montreal, Carolina and Toronto are the challengers, two playoff spots are the reward. The Islanders will probably take one, as long DiPietro keeps up the ubermensch performance (and thereby qualify for an apology from every single hockey fan who ever said anything bad about them in the off season, myself included). The Rangers did a lot just to get back into the race, and Shanny might return soon too, so counting them out would be silly, but we've already given one spot away, and the second is reserved for the Maple Leafs... so... yeah. They'll choke eventually. Carolina doesn't seem to have anything big going their way, nothing stands out about the defending champs, and Montreal is too busy being Quebec's newest daily soap opera to find any success on the ice. The Leafs have their number one power play unit back with the return of Tucker and Wellwood. The Leafs played five hundred hockey while they were gone, and now that they're back, logic, if nothing else, says that the Leafs start to play better.

They beat (a severely undermanned) New Jersey (by one goal) last night, which is promising. Of the five teams, Toronto has the hardest schedule, playing just one non-playoff team in their final ten. Luckily though, Toronto also plays the four teams around them once each, placing Toronto's fate in their own hands. A home and home against Buffalo looms, which is good, because it will give us a potential preview of the first round. If the Leafs get swept here, than preparing for the playoffs is pointless. If they turn in a good performance, just spilt the series, hope will continue to sparkle.


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