The Leafs enter their final meeting with the Boston Bruins holding a 3-2 edge in the season series and having won the clubs’ last two matchups by a combined score of 9-5. Since really turning it on around mid February, the Leafs’ performances against Northeast Division rivals ahead of them in the standings has been a promising sign for next season. In their last seven games against Northeast opponents dating back to February 15, the Leafs are 6-0-1, with the SO loss coming against the Senators.
The reference to next season is done purposefully here after the Leafs’ already minuscule playoff chances took a further hit last night. After Buffalo and Carolina wins over New York and Montreal (these teams comprise seeds 6-9) in the East, it’s no longer necessarily a Sabres falling off the Leafs need but perhaps instead a total collapse from one of the Rangers or Habs. The Canes would have to clear the way by cooling off while one of the Sabres, Rangers or Habs would have to completely collapse altogether. The Leafs, meanwhile, would have to hold up their end by rhyming off five straight to end the season. Yeah, pretty damn remote.
More deserving of attention is the promise of this young group both in the way they’ve performed as a team and in the progress of some of its individual performers.
Nazem Kadri enters the game looking to extend his point streak to three while the “Reimminister of Defence” looks to make it six wins in his last seven. Dion Phaneuf has four points in his last three and is looking to extend that point streak to four games. Carl Gunnarsson has four points in his last five appearances, Grabovski four in his last four and Phil Kessel five in his last five.
The turnaround in results against Northeast rivals Boston and Buffalo has been keyed by the Leafs’ ability to start solving Ryan Miller and Tim Thomas, previously sharp thorns in Toronto’s side. The Leafs have scored eight goals on Miller in his last two outings and chased Thomas from the net in the clubs’ last meeting on March 19. Thomas is 1-2-1 against the Leafs this season.
That March 12 meeting was called by some observers the best performance of the season from the Leafs perspective, with the team’s promising future on full display. Keith Aulie, Luke Orr Schenn and Nazem Kadri all scored with additional contributions from Mike Brown and Joey Crabb.
Perhaps now close to meaningless as far as the playoffs go, playing out the final five with continued pride and promise is all any reasonable Leafs fan is asking for.