With a 4-2 win over the New Jersey Devils on Friday night, the Toronto Maple Leafs are now tied on points for second place in the Atlantic Division, matching the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins with 44.
Due to NHL tiebreaking procedures, the Leafs remain behind Ottawa with one more game played, but surpass Boston with their three games in hand. Toronto now sits in sole possession of third in the division.
Toronto Maple Leafs Move Into a Playoff Spot with Win Against New Jersey
Toronto took control of the game early, scoring three times in two minutes in the first period—twice on the power play and once shorthanded—en route to a four-goal opening frame. Nazem Kadri, Connor Brown, Auston Matthews, and Tyler Bozak all scored for the Leafs in the first twenty minutes. Devils goaltender Cory Schneider left the game after allowing three goals on five shots.
New Jersey added a pair of goals late in the third period, but failed to complete the comeback as the Leafs held on for the win.
Only 38 games into the 2016-17 season, the Eastern Conference playoff race is beginning to heat up. After a red-hot December, the Leafs find themselves in the hunt just one year removed from finishing 30th in the NHL.
Toronto hasn’t appeared in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and hasn’t won a playoff series since 2003-04 against Ottawa. This is the latest the Maple Leafs have held a playoff position since March of the 2013-14 season, before a late-season collapse.
The Leafs have 44 games left to play in the regular season, and will look to take a tighter grasp on a playoff spot with their games in hand over Boston and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The road to the postseason seems to be through an Atlantic Division spot for the Leafs, with the stronger Metropolitan Division more likely to take up both wild card berths.
Making the playoffs is a secondary goal for this young Toronto team, but postseason experience early in the careers of Matthews, Mitch Marner, and the rest of the rookies in the lineup would be invaluable.
TORONTO, ON – DECEMBER 17: Morgan Rielly #44 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates an overtime winning goal by teammate Jake Gardiner #51 (not shown) against the Pittsburgh Penguins during an NHL game at the Air Canada Centre on December 17, 2016 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. The Maple Leafs defeated the Penguins 2-1 in overtime. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)