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Washington Capitals

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are officially in the playoffs.

I hope that felt as good to read as it did to write.

It has been a long nine years since Jeremy Roenick broke Leafs Nations’ hearts in 2004. The excitement that year was nuts. The Leafs traded for Hall of Fame defenseman Brian Leetch for a bunch of guys nobody knew existed and Toronto was buzzing with Stanley Cup hopes. I remember Leetch’s first game against the Islanders; Leetch had three points and the TV broadcast had this stupid iso-camera on Leetch every time he touched the ice. (Ironic side note: the only player traded in the deal who became relevant in the NHL was drafted with the expended second round pick, a player by the name of Michael Sauer – you know, the guy who had his career ended by Phaneuf).

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In case you missed it, here’s mORRganRielly‘s excellent Game in 22.

What a heart-breaker that was.

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Photo Credit: Luis M. Alvarez/AP Photo

Well, the luck continued yesterday for the Blue and White. With their monumental collapse in the playoffs against the Philadelphia Flyers last season still fresh in the minds of the Boston faithful, the Bruins once again committed a major defensive lapse by surrendering five unanswered goals to the Rangers yesterday and putting the post season further out of reach for the Leafs. Hopefully the hockey gods have the decency to balance out the Leafs’ misfortunes eventually because we haven’t seen much fall their way since the lockout.

At the end of the day, the Leafs playoff aspirations rely solely on their performance throughout the entire season. While a late stretch created excitement for the city of Toronto, this team must get over the hump and learn to win on a consistent basis without that major, season-killing slump that has had them fighting such a deficit the past few seasons. All Leaf fans can ask for is an honest effort and demand no excuses for mid-season mediocrity. It has been well-documented that the Leafs have put together one of the best records in the NHL since the All Star break. None of that matters if the team is one of the worst through October and November.

With three important games left on the schedule, starting with tonight`s game against Washington, the Leafs will look to finish the year strong to leave no doubts that they finally jumped over the hump. Although the playoffs are still a mathematical possibility, the Buffalo Sabres must lose the rest of their games in regulation while the Leafs need to go three straight in either regulation or overtime. If the Sabres manage to record a point, Toronto will be officially, mathematically eliminated from playoff contention. Hey, stranger things have happened, right? I think?

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According to Paul Hunter of the Toronto Star, it appears as if the Maple Leafs could be exploring all options in order to bring in another centreman from outside the organization. While Hunter explains that Bozak and Grabovski have essentially nailed down the top two centre positions to begin the season, both Kadri and Mitchell have struggled enough for Burke to begin considering alternative means of reinforcement down the middle. During the media conference call on Sunday afternoon, Burke had this to say about his current forward group:

“No one has ever said we’re going with this group. We’re still in a great position for waiver claims. We still have our scouts out scouring. We haven’t ruled out doing something. . . . We may need to go out and grab a centre.

Regarding Kadri:

“He’s not played anywhere near to what we had hoped for and expected. I don’t know why that is and he’s running out of time.”

Hunter speculates that Christian Hanson will likely be slotted in between Colton Orr and Mike Brown on the team’s fourth line, which by process of elimination, suggests that the Leafs could be looking to acquire a veteran third line centre. Presumably, this would be a player who would mesh into Burke’s “top six – bottom six” philosophy as a defensively minded player who will win faceoffs, battle in the corners and contribute on the team’s penalty kill unit.

One such player could be former Canuck/Duck Brendan Morrison, whom Burke and Nonis are both quite familiar with. Morrison is currently with the Canucks’ camp on a tryout basis, but has been playing well. The 35 year old B.C. native posted 42 points and a +23 rating in 74 games played for the Capitals last season. If he doesn’t manage to snag a full-time job on a very deep Canuck team (Sedin, Kesler, Malholtra down the middle), then look for the Leafs to perhaps inquire about his services.

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In part 11 of his 12 Burning Questions series, Derek Harmsworth takes a look at one of the hottest topics in Leafs Nation today: just how long of a leash does Ron Wilson have?

In the summer of 2008, the Toronto Maple Leafs were in the midst of a major overhaul.  Much maligned general manager John Ferguson, Jr. had been relieved of his duties with the organization, and as nice a man as JFJ was when I met him at the Leafs rookie and orientation camp a year prior, there is no solid argument that can be made for him as a good GM.

Ferguson Jr, to his credit, can take solace in the fact that a few of his draft picks are now cracking the Leafs as legitimate players, Kulemin and Gunnarsson among them, although even that fact can be debated  - how much was scouting and how much was general managing?

In a word, John Ferguson Jr. left the Toronto Maple Leafs in shambles, and some of the moves he made, continually sacrificing youth for a quick fix solution (or at least something he thought was a quick fix) have very well set the Maple Leafs back at least an additional few years in the rebuilding process.

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Whichever way you cut it, the Leafs endured a torrid season that no statistical tinkering can mend. Regardless, if there is one thing most opposing NHL fans can agree on it’s the increasing need for an overhaul in the leagues points’ structure and the farcical awarding of points in the overall standings.

Where once every game had two points at stake, either by means of two for the win or split after an OT tie, the inclusion of an extra point for teams losing in OT or, more prevalently, after the shootout, has spawned an lopsided points structure that favours teams and coaches who adopt an cautious approach toward the end of regulation time that is the polar opposite of what was originally intended.

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    The Playoffs are about to start and what better time than now for the CFB predictions. We highlight every series with individual writers giving their own opinion on why or how a particular team can win the series. This is the Round 1 Predictions for the Eastern Conference.

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      It’s that time of year again.  The most wonderful time of the year.  No, not Christmas, and no, you won’t see any of those silly Staples commercials.

      It’s time for the NHL playoffs.

      The annual spring tournament that features some of the most exciting hockey of the season.  It’s  triple overtime games that rage on long into the night, games so long that you’ll hope you saved some sick days.  It’s players skating through pain, all for the common goal of lifting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

      And the great fans of the NHL, well they have the best seat in the house.

      Around this time of year, especially the first round, marriages are postponed.  Assignments are left on desks unfinished.  Scheduled are cleared, or built around.  Kiss your wife or girlfriend, and tell her you’ll see her in a few months, a better person than when you last saw her.

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        The most important person involved in the Mike Green snub from the Canadian Olympic team is perhaps the defenseman himself.

        Reasoning used by the Canadian contingent isn’t likely similar to that of the general public, although the overwhelming sentiment of a lack of defensive game (often incorrectly portrayed as ‘liability’ in some circles) seems to be mostly prevalent.

        And it’s a falsity.

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          After last night’s impressive 4-0 victory over the Flyers, the Maple Leafs will attempt to build some momentum tonight versus the Capitals in Washington.

          Surprisingly, the Maple Leafs, who have allowed a league-high 164 goals, have won two straight against the Capitals, who lead the league with 171 goals. However, the Caps won their only home game against the Leafs early in the season.

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            Niklas Hagman, with 15 goals, sits 18 in goals scored this season, fellow european Alexei Ponikarovsky is a little further down, ranked 29th in NHL goal scoring with 12 on the year so far.

            Phil Kessel and Matt Stajan both have more goals than Brad Richards, Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Zetterberg, and Patrick Kane.

            And while these stats are a welcome sight to most fans, many would agree that the secret to the Leafs success lies much deeper.  At least, much deeper down the depth chart.

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              Just wanted to share a fantastic bit of work done by Nights, one of our many enthusiastic and intelligent readers, who evaluated how the NHL landscape would look without the first 8 games of the season during which the Maple Leafs struggled mightily. Great work!

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                For the second time in a week, the Maple Leafs have felt the wrath of the Boston Bruins on home ice, only this time there were distinct differences from Saturday’s 7-2 beat down.

                The Leafs, after sleepwalking through two periods of the hockey game, decided to bring their game in the third and made things interesting with goals by Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to pull them within a goal of the Bruins.  A late, costly penalty by Leafs winger Jason Blake sealed their fate however, as the penalty kill sagged once again, and Mark Recchi scored with under three minutes left to ice the game for the Bruins.

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                  The Leafs and Islanders have a fair bit of history between them. The Mike Peca/Darcy Tucker incident, the Leafs trading up to acquire Luke Schenn, and even the Islanders beating the Devils (who played Scott Clemmenson instead of Martin Brodeur) in a shootout to knock the Leafs out of the 2006-07 playoffs by one point in the final game of the season. Tonight, they meet again in Toronto.

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                    - The Globe and Mail explains that thanks to an impressive win over the Capitals, the Leafs’ veterans have bought themselves some more time, and no immediate restructuring with Marlies players will be made. Yeesh.

                    - The Toronto Sun reviews a possible Brent Sopel to Toronto swap, stating that the $500K cleared in the waiving of Andrew Ebbett likely stalled trade talks over the weekend as Chicago seemed to gain a bit more leverage.

                    - The Marlies came away with a 3-2 shootout win over the Monsters yesterday afternoon, and it was in big part due to the play of first star James Reimer, who turned away 30 shots, including an overtime breakaway and four shootout attempts. Don’t look now but Reimer is quickly doing his best to help us forget Justin Pogge, as the 21 year old boasts a 5-1-1 record with a 2.10 GAA and .928 SV%.

                    - Lastly, I’ve still got a pair of last minute purples to tonight’s game against the Islanders that I’m looking to move at cost. Drop me an email if you’re interested. Update: Tickets have been sold, thanks for your interest.

                    [email protected]

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                      It was a dark night on Friday, and I thought I could accurately predict who will win tonight's game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Washington Capitals. What occurred over the course of the night is nothing short of the truth in a world full of lies. Am I lying about that? Read on for the ultimate truth by drinking my honesty serum with your mind gullet.

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                        Despite an encouraging 3-0-4 record in their past 7 games, the Maple Leafs continue to explore ways to improve their roster with an eye to both the current season and the future.   The following is a rundown of the latest rumours making their way around the campfire in reference to the boys in blue.

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                          UPDATE: Gustavsson is skating on the ice, and Ron Wilson has suggested he might be playing on Saturday despite just one practice. Also, rumors circulating Leafs could be after Frolov. Hockey Central at Noon suggests the possibility of Burke potentially sacrificing future in order to prevent Bruins from landing top 5 pick.