Leafs' playoff berth is well-deserved

Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri celebrates a goal against the Senators with teammate Joffrey Lupul...

Maple Leafs forward Nazem Kadri celebrates a goal against the Senators with teammate Joffrey Lupul at Scotiabank Place in Ottawa, April 20, 2013. (BLAIR GABLE/Reuters)

LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:07 AM ET

Leo Komarov shaved the red beard he was working on before Saturday’s game with the Ottawa Senators.

“I’m getting a real one for the playoffs,” he said in jest.

The Maple Leafs post-season co-op grow-op can now begin, although the youngest team in the NHL might have to go a round or two for any visible results.

Forget what you’ve heard ad nauseum about the NHL’s longest current playoff drought of seven seasons, the Leafs can now look forward to playing in May.

And when you’ve waited that long, what harm can it do to dream about 16 more wins?

More than half the roster has not experienced a playoff game, no one has played more than 40, while six have played 20 or fewer. Goaltender James Reimer, upon whom so much depends if the Leafs keep posting such lopsided shot totals, hasn’t seen a post-season game since 2009 when he shared the net for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays.

But the Leafs are finally back in — and not with one of their last-ditch nail-biting attempts that raised so many false hopes. You can argue there were 34 fewer games this year for them to stumble and bumble, but this was unquestionably a better Leafs team than past editions and will go in the books as the first to finish with a record higher than .500 (overtime and shootouts included) since 2003-04.

Saturday’s 4-1 win over Ottawa was a microcosm of how coach Randy Carlyle turned things around. The Leafs didn’t come out for a big game like nervous nellies after three clunkers and a heated-up race in the East. They delivered a must-win on the road (if Scotiabank Place can be called hostile anymore) and had enough contributions from the right people to compensate for their mistakes.

They deserve the chance to move on.

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