5 games to go, and with the Habs’ recent form, home ice advantage is within the Leafs’ reach (also play them in the last game of the season). The Buds will need to bounce back from their first blowout loss since early March vs. the Jets, as they seemingly ran into a red-hot Capitals team at the wrong time, in a back-to-back scenario with travel in between and some bad habits creeping into their game.
On the flip side, with a loss to the 7th-placed Islanders the Leafs could find themselves in position to fall back into the clutches of the 6-7 seeds of the East. Based on recent play within the Conference, and the Leafs season series against the potential opponents, I think we have to be hoping for Leafs-Habs matchup in round 1 – both from the standpoint of how unspeakably awesome it would be and in terms of the Leafs’ chances of advancing. The Leafs can take down most teams that attempt to outspeed and outskill them and they have also outcompeted the Habs physically. The difficulty seems to come in when the Leafs are slowed down, forced to fall back on a grind-it-out cycle game, and retrieve and control the puck along the boards.
Back to tonight’s matchup, the two matchups to date against the Isles have been wide open affairs. With the way Reimer is playing (he will start), and the Leafs scoring depth and speed up front, I usually like the Leafs’ odds in a game of traded chances. However, much like the challenge of the Caps matchup, this is a different (and hot) Isles team that has allowed only 11 goals over their past 8 games (6-0-2). They’ve been playing better defense and getting the goaltending needed from Evgeni Nabokov. The Isles have not lost in regulation in the month of April.
This is a matchup that, for years, has been a late-season borefest, with the only redeeming interest factor being possible draft pick implications. This season it’s an intriguing meeting of the two surprise teams in the Eastern Conference with playoff seed positioning at stake. The Leafs can officially clinch with a win and a Jets loss to the Hurricanes.
In terms of lineup notes, Gunnarsson will sit out his third straight game (resting his groin with Saturday as his target return game) while Matt Frattin and Clarke MacArthur will draw back in on Mikhail Grabovski’s wings.