Leafs can impact New York teams' hopes

Nazem Kadri tries his hand at goalkeeping as he goes down to block an attempt from defenceman Jake...

Nazem Kadri tries his hand at goalkeeping as he goes down to block an attempt from defenceman Jake Gardiner during yesterday's workout at the MasterCard Centre. The Leafs play host to the Rangers tonight. (DAVE THOMAS/QMI Agency)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 11:28 PM ET

When the NHL’s 48-game schedule began, most pundits felt safe picking the Stanley Cup-finalist New Jersey Devils and the glossy New York Rangers to either make the playoffs or finish ahead of the Maple Leafs.

Jan. 19 now seems a million years ago, in an Eastern Conference race turned upside down a few times. Today, the Leafs and Montreal Canadiens, who were 13th and 15th, respectively last April, are top five. And, for the Leafs, Saturday’s 2-1 triumph in New Jersey, coupled with a regulation home win Monday against the Rangers, would be near unscalable between those teams and the Leafs as the schedule dwindles.

There might even be a post-season NHL first, with the Leafs in and all three New York teams out. But Toronto players are looking at the scoreboard first and the opposing crest second.

“A shortened season is always kind of goofy with a lot of predictions,” defenceman John-Michael Liles said Sunday. “You look at Montreal (worst to first in the No


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