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