The playoffs are here for the Maple Leafs.
Just don’t expect any parties on Yonge St., the CN Tower lit up in blue and white, or actual hope they still will be around in May and June.
This is the stretch of the schedule that coach Ron Wilson has told his young team to attack as if they were in the running for eighth place, to be the classic spoilers in an intense Eastern Conference playoff race.
“We didn’t call up a beer league team and tell them: ‘Go have a gas in the NHL,’ ” Wilson said of his kids Thursday before a home game against the Tampa Bay Lightning. “We think they can help us in the future and this is their audition time.
“It has more to do with them wanting to make our team next year, wanting to make a contribution, to be noticed. You want to put a little pressure on by calling it the spoiler role, so that you just don’t go out there loosey-goosey.”
This might have been a tougher task for Wilson if the Leafs were filled with jaded veterans who would tune out his message to finish on a strong note. But Wilson has a captive audience of the league’s second-youngest team.
“With the position we’re in, you want to take a lot of pride and purpose going into a game,” defenceman Luke Schenn said. “If we were in a good position, I’m sure those teams would try and do the same to us.”
The Lightning were five points behind Boston before Thursday’s games, with the Oilers (who are here on Saturday) six back of the Leafs.
With Boston owning Toronto’s first draft pick, a late Leafs surge could deny the Bruins a shot at Taylor Hall and Tyler Seguin, who are at the top of the draft rankings.
Schenn said last week it would be nice if the Leafs could take some heat off of general manager Brian Burke this summer, by kicking Boston further down the draft order.
“It’s a great opportunity to spoil other teams’ hopes,” veteran centre Wayne Primeau agreed. “We take every game like it’s our playoff game and we’ll do that right to the end of the year.
“But it’s more than being the spoiler, it’s kids coming in here and getting the opportunity they might not get somewhere else. And for guys such as myself, we’re playing for contracts.”