Good might not cut it

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

Quality teams, Canadian teams, Original Six teams, all are in danger of missing the National Hockey League playoffs.

With the 16-team tournament underway a month today, it's certain that a number of clubs that finish over .500 will be watching the first round from the couch.

The Maple Leafs still are stinging from a 90-point season that didn't qualify them last spring and they could be in for similar heartbreak.

"Since the all-star game, we've realized the position we're in," captain Mats Sundin said. "We've shown we can beat the top teams in the conference on certain occasions (including two third-period rallies against New Jersey and Ottawa within eight days). But you look at our schedule and we've got a lot of the top teams coming up. Our biggest focus is to play our best game every night and not worry about the standings."

While the standings can change by the hour when you factor in weekend afternoon games, there are some interesting scenarios. This could be the first year since expansion that five of the Original Six miss the dance, with only the Detroit Red Wings a lock at this point.

If the Montreal Canadiens and Leafs fall by the wayside, the Senators will represent Eastern Canada and perhaps have their long delayed moment in the sun, pending Vancouver and Calgary's success.

"You definitely want to become Canada's team," Senators centre Jason Spezza said. "We definitely want to inherit that flavour. But you do want to see a lot of Canadian teams in, because it creates a lot of buzz."

His coach, Bryan Murray, didn't sound as enthused, perhaps knowing the Leafs and Canadiens have fans in Bytown that can negate home-ice advantage.

"Honestly, I just want to worry about our own team," Murray said. "I can't say I'm cheering for anyone in particular. I don't even know who I'd like to play.

"But there are going to be some awfully good teams not make it and some good teams go out in the first round, teams that had terrific years and looked like they were (Cup) candidates. Someone is not going to make it and that's just a fact of life in the NHL today."

It's not even certain that last year's Stanley Cup winning Carolina Hurricanes will be there, with runnerup Edmonton already sunk.

"Who can say they have a comfortable spot?," Murray wondered of his own team's 10-point cushion at present. "I'm not comfortable at all. I just want to finish this up."

Murray spoke before the Leafs came back to beat his club in overtime Saturday night. But Toronto's good cheer lasted less than a day as the New York Rangers and Hurricanes both earned points in yesterday's matinee game.


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