With five straight losses, all in regulation, the Toronto Maple Leafs are on the verge of letting their season slip away. They currently occupy the final wild card, but have played more games than the teams chasing them. Despite getting outshot on many occasions, the Leafs were able to pick up points earlier in the season thanks to the work of their two young goaltenders, one of whom is dealing with a crisis in confidence, the other an injured groin, although it looks like Bernier will get the start tonight.
Yet, even with the recent slide, there are still nine games left, which is enough time for the Leafs to get their season back on track and make the playoffs.
If Randy Carlyle’s Leafs had its defining aspects, many would look to his penchant for dressing an enforcer, several times two, perhaps his team’s ability to be so constantly out-possessed, or maybe his collapsing system. None of those can really be considered bright spots, but he has shown an ability to get the Leafs back on track when they are seemingly on the brink of disaster.
After losing four straight in January, the Leafs turned things around with a six game winning streak, eventually winning 12 of 14 games going into the Olympic break in what was their most impressive stretch of play all year. It is not out of the question for the Leafs, perhaps rejuvenated with the return of Bernier, to go on a similar run to close out this season.
If the Leafs are searching for inspiration, they need to look no further than the team they had last year, and what they accomplished late in March. After winning only once in seven games, the Leafs then took on the Boston Bruins in home and home that looked like an impeding disaster for the Leafs, who hadn’t beaten the Bruins in almost 2 years. The Leafs took three of four points from those two games, then went 6-1-1 in their next eight, to make give themselves some breathing room leading to their first playoff birth in nine years.
Tonight they take on the St. Louis Blues, a team that’s first in the West, and a team that crushed the Leafs already this season, back in December 6-3. A win against them could reinvigorate the Leafs, who must feel dejected playing from behind as they have for so much of the last week.
If the Leafs are going to make the playoffs, they are going to have to start winning games, and picking up points in the games that they do lose. They finish the season with three straight on the road, but only have tonight’s game, and April 3rd’s game against the Bruins against powerhouse opponents. There is in fact time to turn the season around. But not much of it.
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