Two Huge Games

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TORONTO, CANADA - MARCH 28: James Reimer #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs defends the goal as teammate Carl Gunnarsson #36 battles for the puck with Jiri Tlusty #19 of the Carolina Hurricanes during NHL game action March 28, 2013 at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. (Photo by Graig Abel/NHLI via Getty Images)

It’s a simple question with a scary answer: how important are the next two games to the Toronto Maple Leafs? The Leafs are kicking of a stretch of five games in seven nights tonight in Carolina, one of their busiest portions of their season. The Leafs have held playoff positioning all season, but months of mediocre play have whittled its foothold in the East’s hierarchy. While it’s impossible to say that these are the two most important games of the Leafs season, it could very well be the two most important games of the season so far.

In the next two nights, the Leafs have an astonishing opportunity within their grasp. By tomorrow night, the 8th seed Leafs could climb to as high as 5th in the Eastern Conference standings. Or fall as low as 10th. Here’s how:

Current standings, (teams 5-11 in the Eastern conference) prior to games Thursday night:

Current Standings

Flyers: 50 points44 games played20 ROW
Rangers: 47 points45 games played19 ROW
Redwings: 48 points43 games played18 ROW
Leafs: 47 points44 games played14 ROW
Capitals: 46 points42 games played12 ROW
Ottawa: 46 points45 games played18 ROW
Hurricanes: 45 points43 games played18 ROW

Best case Scenario by end-of-play Friday night:

Leafs: 51 points46 games played16 ROW
Flyers: 50 points44 games played20 ROW
Red Wings: 48 points44 games played18 ROW
Rangers: 47 points46 games played19 ROW
Capitals: 46 points44 games played12 ROW
Senators: 46 points45 games played18 ROW
Hurricanes: 45 points45 games played18 ROW

Worst case scenario by end-of-play Friday night:

Flyers: 50 points44 games played20 ROW
Red Wings: 50 points44 games played19 ROW
Capitals: 50 points44 games played14 ROW
Hurricanes: 49 points45 games played20 ROW
Rangers: 49 points46 games played20 ROW
Leafs: 47 points46 games played14 ROW
Senators: 46 points45 games played18 ROW

The Leafs take to the road against the Carolina Hurricanes and the Washington Capitals tonight and Friday night. With wins in both games, the club would be sitting pretty with 51 points. By defeating both Washington and Carolina in regulation, the Leafs would put its closest competitors for the last wild card position as many as six points back.

This becomes increasingly important when looking at the next two items in each line. The Leafs, by tomorrow night, will have played more games than all of their direct competition save for the Rangers. The Flyers, Red Wings, and Capitals will all have two games in hand on the Leafs. The Hurricanes and Senators each have one game in hand. It would be especially brutal for the Leafs to cough up loser points to either the Capitals or Hurricanes given those conditions.

The Leafs also happen to have the second lowest ROW (Regulation/Overtime Wins) score of the above seven teams. ROW is used to calculate the tie breaker. Factored in with the Leafs having played through more of their schedule than their competition, the Leafs 51 points is actually mightily handicapped. While the shootout has been good to the Leafs, it’s not exactly stifling the competitions’ chances at surpassing the Leafs for a final playoff spot.

Of course, the real results will probably be something in between the aforementioned ‘best’ and ‘worst’ case scenarios. Even though the matchups seem to favour the Leafs’ chances, it’s still only just that. Detroit could beat San Jose, Washington could beat Tampa, and Carolina probably will beat Columbus. But the Leafs can still get to 5th place in the East under those conditions with two wins.

Scoreboard watching is almost exclusively a depressing task, because you have to rely on so many teams losing. Just last night, the Leafs would have most benefited from Ottawa, New York and Philadelphia not earning a single. They earned a combined five points.

But what does remain clear is that the Leafs still have a measure of its destiny in its hands. The Leafs can impact two of their direct competitors in a little more than 24 hour period, and keep their head above water in the playoff chase. A small respite for a team that’s been gasping for two months now.

But it’s all right in front of them. All they have to do is win the next two games in regulation (ideally) or overtime. Something they haven’t done since November 19th, 2013.

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Michael Stephens has been writing for Maple Leafs Hotstove since 2010, and has featured in the 2010 and 2012 Maple Leaf Annuals. Former Editiorial Intern at The Hockey News. Undergraduate degree from the University of Windsor. Chat me up about all things hockey on twitter @MLHS_Mike
  • lieffan

    “..win the next two games in regulation (ideally) or overtime. Something they haven’t done since October 30th, 2013.”

    Sweet Santa Clause shit. That’s so bad.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/mirtlehttps://twitter.com/mirtle/status/421333147909754880
    Last two seasons, James Reimer has played one fewer game than Luongo, has more wins and a better save percentage http://t.co/00UflJMg1I

  • Burtonboy

    But he’s not a starter

  • Airfreshener

    Burtonboy Lies.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy Yet will watch the Olympics on TV, all cozied up with April….aw damn, that’s not so bad.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/jonasTSN1050https://twitter.com/jonasTSN1050/status/421334028550430720
    Carlyle calls Gunnarsson and Clarkson gametime decisions but implies that status of one (Clarkson) changed this morning.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    I think we are going to be saying “Huge Game” for about 36 more times before the end of the season.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/reporterchrishttps://twitter.com/reporterchris/status/421334047458357248
    Carter Ashton will play centre for the https://twitter.com/search?q=%23leafs&src=hash. Randy Carlyle says Peter Holland was demoted because he wasn’t fit to be a fourth-liner.

  • wendelsfist

    Burtonboy Did anyone click the link?  Bernier is the only goalie in the last two years above Reimer in SV%.   We have the two best goalies starting goalies over the last two seasons

  • Marleafs

    Burtonboy lmao, and Orr and McLaren are.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Burtonboy Man, that comment is …well…I’m at a loss.

  • BigTO

    Things have been awful the last two months. Bloody awful.
    But they’re in there with a fight. Winning these two games would be a starting point.

  • loomx

    TheCanucksnaphook Think of Bernier but with a massive smile and an incredibly attractive wife.

  • lieffan

    @BigTO Do you see any “fight” in this team, though? And I don’t mean facepunching.

  • Marpole_Leafs

    I’m feeling a big win tonight.  I don’t think we have quit on Randy and I don’t think Randy is going anywhere.  To state the obvious, it’s all on the players now….like it always has been, but, even more so now that HBO and the Winter Classic are done. no more fucking excuses and injuries don’t count as one.  Its time to stop with this pussyfooting around bullshit and get out there and show us some fucking guts.  No more bullshit.

  • vinoa

    ingy56 Burtonboy It does make some sense. Holland’s better served playing top 6 minutes in the AHL over 4 minutes with Orr and FML with the big boys. Although I still don’t get why one of Orr/FML didn’t get sent down instead. I guess Carlyle doesn’t want to tire the 4th line out too much lol

  • wendelsway1

    Burtonboy I’m assuming he meant that he should be playing higher in the line up, rather than on a forth line getting 4 plus minutes.

  • Marleafs

    wendelsfist Burtonboy The goalies are great. Remember when Luongo played on Florida? He would face a similar amount of shots and have a huge SV% even though the team sucked.

  • Airfreshener

    Murph2417 day after mine.

  • Burtonboy

    TheCanucksnaphook I do believe he was drafted as a center but Man if he’s played anymore then a couple of shifts as a pro it can’t be many

  • Marpole_Leafs

    CanuckUKinToronto I agree and like Phook said down below, Reimers wins games like this.  He loves the doubters.

  • vinoa

    Murph2417 You jerk!! Now we’ll have to wait till this October for another regulation win lol

  • Marleafs

    ingy56 Burtonboy If anything it should say “Peter Holland was demoted because he is too skilled to be on Leafs 4th line”

  • MaxwellHowe

    Thats what Dreger told me.  I am so confused

  • loomx

    Murph2417 It’s simple. We kill the Murphman

  • Airfreshener

    Murph2417 vinoa Did you do anything different for this birthday/ drink a different new beverage etc.

  • Burtonboy

    Marleafs ingy56 Burtonboy Exactly . They see him as a top 6/9 forward not a 4th liner. Ashton is better suited for that role. Remains to be seen if he can be a center or not

  • vinoa

    Murph2417 vinoa It’s the curse of the Clarkson!!

  • reenergized

    problems in Scabs land as well :) I love it!!

    http://www.hockeybuzz.com/blog/Eric-Engels/Therriens-Hypocrisy-A-sign-of-Major-Insecurity/82/57062

    This guy actually writes some good articles.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/reporterchrishttps://twitter.com/reporterchris/status/421335773443391488
    https://twitter.com/mirtle https://twitter.com/jonasTSN1050 https://twitter.com/KyleTheReporter According to Ashton himself, he last played it full-time in junior.

  • reenergized

    Burtonboy so it’s Okay for Ashton who has been lighting up the AHL but not Holland ??? I’m confused … there has to be something more to this that we are not privy to yet …

  • MaxwellHowe

    Yeah, if they’re gonns miss the playoffs anyway, wouldn’t you wish they’d just lose 10 straight and end the charade now?  Seriously. Gonna be another 14th pick in the first round, provided the Leafs don’t trade that pick for another Ryan O’Byrne.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/jonasTSN1050https://twitter.com/jonasTSN1050/status/421335962648473600
    Ashton played centre for the Leafs on Nov. 15 in Buffalo.

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Marleafs ingy56 Burtonboy He should have gotten some of Jay MC’s minutes. Especially late in a game when they need goals to win.

  • Burtonboy

    reenergized Burtonboy Ashton is a much more physical player and better suited for that role . Holland is a skill guy who belong in the top 6

  • Airfreshener

    @Murph2417 @Airfreshener @vinoa See you already know the answer Abed. You’ve created a seperate time line and did in fact send us all to the darkest time line. We must find our way back to the prime timeline, and kill the other versions of ourselves.

  • Burtonboy

    https://twitter.com/jonasTSN1050https://twitter.com/jonasTSN1050/status/421336179636572160
    Carlyle on Holland: “We felt it was probably hurting his development curve to leave him as a fourth-line centre.”

  • Bon Scott was a Leaf fan

    Keon – regarding Bob Crane……that guy fucked half of Hollywood (and videotaped it).  It was his buddy who killed him, though they couldn’t prove it.  That dude got around.

  • Jmessih

    Burtonboy Are you fucking serious? He was there for like half then season, we just learned this now?

  • rustynail

    ingy56 not if we lose the next two in regulation :)

  • Marpole_Leafs

    Burtonboy Ashton should have said not to worry , he will be able to handle it for the 3:38 in icetime Randy will give his line.

  • loomx

    Burtonboy “…and we felt that Jay McClement needs to hit the 30 minute TOI mark to really make a difference.”

  • Jmessih

    Captain material? BTW can this guy even spell intense?

  • http://i.imgur.com/MyKj5C3.gif ingy56

    Jmessih Make it stop…make it stop….

  • Airfreshener

    Burtonboy  its official, Carlyle is slipping into senility

  • T K O

    i’m just making a comment… so Spezza’s ugly mug scolls down off my page

  • vinoa

    Jmessih He looks like he can spell stalker all day though lmao!!

  • vinoa

    reenergized Good article. Hopefully this leads to Subban coming home.

  • MaxwellHowe

    what evil piece of humanity posted that?  my eyeballs are trying to hop outta my head

  • Marpole_Leafs

    CanuckUKinToronto They wouldn’t let the numbers get in the way of a good Leaf bashing