Are Leafs road kill?

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn needs to get his team on a roll if they are to make the...

Toronto Maple Leafs coach Pat Quinn needs to get his team on a roll if they are to make the playoffs. (Toronto Sun File/Stan Behal)

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 9:30 AM ET

Starting tonight at home against the Carolina Hurricanes, the Maple Leafs play five games in the next eight nights.

And there is a crazy rumour going around that all the games are pivotal.

It's going to be that way until a) the Leafs officially are eliminated from playoff contention, or b) the Leafs somehow climb into a playoff berth which, if they do, probably won't be a fact until the final night of the regular season.

The Leafs are five points behind the Montreal Canadiens, who beat the Washington Capitals 4-2 last night, for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.

What's clear is that despite playing below .500 since the Olympic break -- they have four wins in 10 outings -- the Leafs remain in the post-season picture.

But this five-game set could present its own host of problems.

The Hurricanes are the lone NHL visitor to the Air Canada Centre until April 1, when the the Leafs open a two-game set with the Buffalo Sabres.

Once the Leafs get past the 'Canes tonight -- Carolina has won two of three against the Leafs this season -- a tough four-game trip looms.

TERRIBLE ON ROAD

What's troubling for the Leafs is they have become one of the worst road clubs in the NHL. They have 11 wins in 33 away games, and only six teams have fewer victories in enemy territory.

But what's encouraging for the Leafs is two of those matches are in Montreal, where their effort rarely is lacking. In two earlier visits to the Bell Centre this season, the Leafs have emerged each time with a one-goal triumph.

A night after the Leafs and Habs meet on Saturday, Toronto will be in New Jersey for a tilt with the Devils. Two nights later, it's a stop in Philadelphia to meet the Flyers.

Note that none of these games are against easy marks.

It's difficult for the Leafs, who were given yesterday off by coach Pat Quinn, not to be watching the scoreboard. The Canadiens are one problem, and the Atlanta Thrashers represent another.

Even if the Leafs begin to win consistently, they will hope the Thrashers don't do the same. During the next little while, the Thrashers also will play the majority of their games on the road.

Whether they like it or not, the Leafs' fate could lie in the hands of the Canadiens, not their own.

When the Montreal plays host to the Leafs on Thursday, it will have 14 games remaining. Ten will be at the Bell Centre.


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