Numbers have begun to dominate talk as the NHL regular season winds down. The playoff push is in full flight and numbers are front and centre. One number in particular is five. There are five teams – Winnipeg Jets, Washington Capitals, Tampa Bay Lightning, Buffalo Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs – in the Eastern Conference that are within five points of each other in a mad scramble for the eight and final playoff spot. Make no mistake despite an ugly 1-9-1 number that has plagued the Leafs for the final month, they are right in the thick of it in the East.
Another crucial number is 17, which are the amount of games the Leafs have left in this season to make some hay. While the talking heads are all looking to figure out exactly what record the Leafs must achieve to make the playoffs – some are saying 14-4 while others are saying 13-5 should be enough – the bottom line is that the Leafs control their own destiny. Other than the Winnipeg Jets (whom the Leafs sit five points back of with 2 games in hand) Toronto will square off against the other three teams they are battling against. In fact, the Leafs play both the Sabres and Lightning twice. What is important is that the Leafs win just as much as their opponents heading down the stretch and then make sure that they win the head to head matchups. Toronto has handily defeated the Lightning both times this season outscoring them 14-4 in those two wins. The Leafs have gone 2-2-0 versus the Sabres this season and could have easily been 4-0-0 with some better play in goal.
Needless to say that new coach Randy Carlyle has his hands full as the buds look to make the playoffs for the first time in 8 calendar years, but only time will tell what impact he can have on this group. Of course the Leafs terrible February sunk them and most intellectuals are claiming that Carlyle’s group can’t make up the ground that they lost. However if the Leafs get hot then by this time next week we can easily see them back in a playoff spot. While it may seem unlikely that this blue and white team can go something like 14-4 or 13-5, keep in mind that a month ago the same people claiming that a 14-4 or 13-5 run is improbable were also saying there was no chance the Leafs would only win 1 of their next 11 games. Hockey is a game of momentum and streaks. The Leafs were down and out and have seemingly been thrown a life preserver. Can they re-emerge once again and become the team that played so well earlier this season or is it too late? With games this week against the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals, we’ll know the answer soon enough.
Below are some numbers for the five teams looking to get that 8th and final post season spot.
Winnipeg Jets – 15 games remaining. 6 home, 9 away. 7 games vs teams in a playoff position, 8 games against teams outside of playoffs. Cumilative record against remaning opponents 15-13-4.
Washington Capitals – 17 games remaining. 8 home, 9 away. 9 games vs teams in a playoff position, 8 against teams outside of the playoffs. Cumilative record against remaning opponents 22-18-2.
Buffalo Sabres – 16 games remaining. 7 home, 9 away. 7 against teams in the playoffs, 9 against teams outside of the playoffs. Cumilative record against remaining opponents 17-15-8.
Tampa Bay Lightning – 17 games remaining. 10 home, 7 away. 8 against teams in the playoffs 9 against teams outside of the playoffs. Cumilative record against remaining opponents 17-18-3.
Toronto Maple Leafs – 17 games remaining. 8 home, 9 away. 9 against teams in the playoffs, 8 against teams outside of the playoffs. Cumilative record against remaining opponents 19-22-3.