Playoff mission is clear for Leafs

ROB LONGLEY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 7:57 PM ET

TORONTO - The message came with colourful language, was amplified for all to hear and went something like this:

“There’s 38 points left,” Maple Leafs coach Ron Wilson said in the middle of a sermon on the dangers of sloppy defensive play. “Every point you (bleep) away is gone. You don’t get do overs.”

It was a captive and enthusiastic audience on the ice at the MasterCard Centre Tuesday as the Leafs put the trade deadline behind them and the playoff race back in full focus.

Hence the business-like approach from Wilson in the first practice after a weekend in which the Leafs let two valuable points slip away.

From the coach on down, the players that for the most part put together a 20-point February to pull within four points of eighth-place Carolina prior to Tuesday’s action were relieved that the trade deadline left them intact.

Are they good enough to make the playoffs? With 19 games remaining, we’re about to find out.

With the right offers not emerging for general manager Brian Burke on Monday’s NHL trade deadline, the young group that got the team in this unlikely position will be given the chance to finish the task.

“How could you go against what the group has done for the last month or so?” Wilson said following Tuesday’s practice. “We have an excellent record (since the all-star break) and there’s no point in tinkering with our chemistry. The guys have been getting it done.

“It’s going to be a challenge to make the playoffs, but it’s going to be a great experience especially for all our young guys.”

At the top of the list of those anxious to soak up that experience is the team’s leading scorer, Clarke MacArthur. The subject of trade talk the past few weeks, MacArthur was relieved that Burke didn’t find an offer too good to refuse.

“In my heart and in my wife’s too, we wanted to stay here and be a part of the Leafs for a long time,” MacArthur said.

“Just to stay with this group of guys, I’m really excited. I feel confident with our team right now and we want to make a real strong push here.”

Making the post-season won’t be easy, but at least the Leafs can start March in the race. They begin a wicked three games in four nights stretch Wednesday at home to Pittsburgh.

Along the way there are a pair of games against Buffalo and one against Carolina, the two teams directly above them. As well as the Leafs have played lately though, one bad week could destroy any hopes.

“In another week, we could be out of it too,” Wilson said. “We’re just grabbing on and enjoying this a day at a time.

“(The experience) is hugely valuable for everybody. It’s great for James Reimer and his development as a goalie. It’s great for (defencemen) Luke Schenn and Carl Gunnarsson who have never been in a situation like this at the NHL level.”


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