The Maple Leafs have no choice but to carry a playoff mindset into their final 25 games of the season because they know they won't be around for the real thing if they do not.
"Can it happen?" Tie Domi asked about bringing playoff-like intensity to their play starting Tuesday at home against Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals. "It better happen. The only thing we have to do is worry about what we have to do ourselves.
"Right from the get-go it is going to be make or break. We don't want any doubt creeping in here after the break."
There's not much to like about the Leafs' schedule once games resume. Of their 25 games, 13 are on the road. Easily the most difficult stretch will be after the March 9 trade deadline, when the Leafs play seven of eight on the road starting March 16 in Buffalo. Their only home match during that stretch is against the Carolina Hurricanes, who presently have the top seed in the Eastern Conference with 82 points.
"The Carolina and Buffalo games we let slip away over the years, those are games we are going to have an opportunity to win again," Domi said. "Even the Ottawa games we have at home here, we have to find ways to win those too."
The Leafs clash with the Sabres five more times. There are two more games at home versus the Senators. With 59 points, the Leafs are one behind the Montreal Canadiens, who hold the eighth and final playoff spot in the conference.
The Atlanta Thrashers and Boston Bruins each have 58 points.
"It's a sprint for us now and if we go into a week-long funk it will cost us a playoff position," Jeff O'Neill said.
"The team that is physically and mentally prepared the most is going to get in. There are going to be a couple of good teams not in the playoffs and we don't want to be one of them."
Assistant coach Keith Acton, who has been running practices with fellow assistant Rick Ley in the past couple of days as Pat Quinn remains in Turin, buys into the pedal-to-the-metal theory.
"No question," Acton said. "We know where we are and where all of our competitors are. Certainly it is going to be the time to be urgent."