Many NHL teams are fighting for their playoffs lives or for the right to play a lesser team in the first round of the playoffs. Not many Toronto Maple Leafs games will make a significant impact on where they finish in the standings or even who they play in the first round. But there are still some can’t miss games left this season. Some games could be used as measuring sticks to see just how ready the Leafs are for a difficult playoff series. And some games may lack significance to the standings but could still have some fireworks nonetheless.
Remaining Can’t-Miss Toronto Maple Leafs Games
March 28th vs The Florida Panthers
The Leafs game against the Florida Panthers is the game most likely to have an impact on the Maple Leafs playoff position. The Leafs are 12 points ahead of the Panthers in the standings, but Florida has three games in hand. They’ve also been winning a lot of hockey games of late. They’ve won eight of their last nine. Their only loss was to the Tampa Bay Lightning in overtime. One of those wins was 3-2 overtime win against the Leafs as well. The last game they lost in regulation? That was over two weeks ago, on February 20th, a 1-0 loss to the Leafs.
If the Panthers pull off a streak similar to the one the Ottawa Senators managed in the 2015-2016 season, it would put the Leafs at risk to move out of the top three spots in the Atlantic Division. Ottawa went 23-4-4 down the stretch to make an improbable playoff appearance that year. The Panthers don’t have as many games remaining, but if they put up a similar winning percentage, they would end the season with a record like 13-2-2. That would give them 101 points at the end of the season. The Leafs would need to finish their season 8-5-1 to end the season ahead of the Panthers with 102 points.
It’s not likely the Panthers will finish with 101 points, but the Leafs could easily finish with 102. So it’s safe to say the Leafs will not drop to a wild card spot. Yet it’s still far more likely that the Panthers catch the Leafs than the Leafs catch the Boston Bruins or Tampa Bay Lightning.
March 20th At Tampa Bay Lightning
Tampa Bay has 13 more points than the Leafs. Both have 14 games remaining and play just one more time. If the Leafs were to win out their remaining games, they would finish the regular season with 113 points. Tampa Bay would need to win eight of their remaining 14 games to finish with 114 points. That’s a winning percentage of 57%. They already have a winning percentage of 69% on the season. For the Lightning to win only eight of their remaining games, they would have to start playing considerably worse than they have all season.
Still, this game does have meaning for the Leafs. With no games remaining against the Bruins, this game against the Lightning is the only remaining game that could be a precursor to a first-round playoff matchup. Sportsclubstats.com puts the Leafs with about a 25% chance of facing the Lightning in the first round.
The Lightning are arguably the best team in the league. If the Leafs are going to have any chance of winning a round, they need to be able to beat a team like Tampa Bay. The Leafs are 1-1-1 against the Lightning this year so far. This is the most important game remaining for the Leafs as far as measuring stick games are concerned.
March 15th At, March 26th Vs, And April 2nd Vs Buffalo Sabres
The Buffalo Sabres are only playing for pride now, and maybe a better lottery ticket, but the battle of the QEW is always full of stories. Jack Eichel may return for one of these games. Hopefully, Auston Matthews will be back by then too. There is no denying a rivalry between these two players, even if it is fueled by fans and media. There is debate as to who would have gone second in the 2015 draft if Matthews had been born 48 hours earlier. They also play for division and geographical rivals. And they’re both fantastic hockey players. This is a matchup we’re going to be seeing for years. Possibly even in the playoffs, if the Sabres ever manage to get back in.
Despite the potential of a superstar matchup, there is an even more interesting storyline for these games. Nazem Kadri and Rasmus Ristolainen already have a history and they ramped it up on March 5th in Buffalo. Not only did the two players scrap after a late(ish) hit on Kadri by Ristolainen, but they also argued from the penalty box about how many games they had remaining between them. Which was hilarious by the way, check the link for the video. Ristolainen may have won the fight, but Kadri won the ensuing argument.
As much as the Leafs need to be able to beat teams like Tampa Bay, they have to win these games as well. Buffalo is last in the Eastern Conference and already has one win over the Leafs. They may not be measuring stick games, but losing the season series against Buffalo isn’t a confidence builder.
March 31st vs Winnipeg Jets
The Leafs beat the Jets 7-2 in the season opener in Winnipeg, but that is not an indication of this True North team’s ability. They are legitimate contenders and automatic Canadian rivals for the Leafs. Both sport superb forward groups, with a slight edge going to the Jets. The Patrik Laine vs Matthews comparisons are inevitable each time these teams meet, and that’s not going away anytime soon. Give that battle to Laine this year. Scoring eight goals in his past four games will do that. Especially since Mattews has been injured all that time.
As fun as the Laine-Matthews comparisons are, more interesting are the teams overall. Few Canadians outside of Montreal would be disappointed in a Jets-Leafs Stanley Cup Final. That may not be likely this year, due to the Leafs tough row to hoe, but it may be a potential Final matchup for years to come. Since they only play twice a year, these regular season games are always going to be interesting.
March 10th vs Pittsburgh Penguins
Another measuring stick game. And who doesn’t love it when Phil Kessel makes a return to Toronto.
March 30th At New York Islanders
Last chance to woo John Tavares on the ice before he hits free agency. Wink.
April 7th Vs Montreal Canadiens
They play on March 17th too. But the game in April is the last regular game of the season for both teams. The schedule makers had high hopes for this game. It may turn into a dud, but it’s still a Saturday night Toronto-Montreal game.