Leafs have no room for error
DAVE HILSON, QMI Agency
|Toronto Maple Leafs Nikolai Kulemin celebrates his goal with teammates Mikhail Grabovski (R), Brett Lebda (2nd L) and Luke Schenn (C) during the second period of their NHL hockey game against the New Jersey Devils in Toronto February 10, 2011. (REUTERS/Mark Blinch)
TORONTO - One point might not be a lot, but right now it is everything to the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Any combination of the Leafs (84 points) dropping one of six available points in their final three games and the Buffalo Sabres (90 points) gaining a point in one of theirs and Toronto’s season is over. If the Leafs can win their final three contests — and Buffalo loses all of its games in regulation — they could be headed to the post-season by virtue of the two teams’ head-to-head record.
Of course, there are still those pesky ninth-place Carolina Hurricanes (87 points, three games remaining) to get past, but no matter, for one night at least, the entire Leafs Nation will be fixated on what happens to Toronto and Buffalo.
The 10th-place Leafs will be trying to do their part to stay in the Eastern Conference playoff picture when they host the Southeast Division-leading Washington Capitals at the Air Canada Centre on Tuesday night, and they will, no doubt, be praying that the Tampa Bay Lightning can help them out when they visit the Sabres.
The Leafs will have their hands full when they face the Alexander Ovechkin-led Capitals, who have added strong defensive play to their dangerous offensive skills this season. But as Capitals centre Brooks Laich says, it’s already playoff time for Toronto.
“They have to have every point in regulation in the next three games and then hope for a little bit of luck, so this an elimination game for the Leafs and they’re going to show us their best,” Laich said after his team’s morning skate at the ACC. “For us, it’s a good challenge. We still have some goals in mind, too. It’s going to be a good hockey game.”
Unlike the Capitals, the Leafs, like they have in recent home-game situations, decided to stay away from the spotlight of the media and skip the pre-game morning skate. Toronto is 7-3 in its past 10 games and even Capitals coach Bruce Boudreau likes the way the Leafs have been playing.
“Boy they have played well,” Boudreau said before going to watch his team skate. “I’m a Toronto boy and played for them, so if we’re not playing I’m sort of watching them more than anybody else. They never give up, they never quit and I think this city should be real proud of them.”
The Leafs will have to use that never-say-die attitude to get by the Capitals, but they are getting a bit of a break with sniper Alexander Semin out of the lineup. Semin did not join the team in Toronto with an undisclosed injury, though Boudreau said his absence was more precautionary than anything.
“I hope he’s back tomorrow, if he’s not, hopefully it will be Saturday. If it’s not then, hopefully it will be the first game of the playoffs,” Boudreau said. “He could play if we wanted him to play today.”
There are no lineup changes for the Maple Leafs.