TORONTO(35-23-15) at BUFFALO (30-32-12)
7:00 pm (CBC)
It is an exciting time to be a fan of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Some late season wins have put the Leafs into a favourable playoff spot. Something Leafs Nation is not really accustomed to over the past decade, save 2012/2013 – 48 game lockout season.
The Leafs have been playing well over the past couple of weeks. Buffalo, meanwhile, has had to endure many challenges this season. The Sabres, like Toronto, are also a team in rebuild mode. With Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, Ryan O’Rielly and Evander Kane in the lineup, it is a bit perplexing why Buffalo has struggled this season. It would be easy to make comparisons between Buffalo and Toronto but given Toronto’s performances prior to last season, we just don’t need to go there.
The Sabres have played themselves into an outside shot of winning the entry draft lottery. They are 3-6-1 over their past 10 games and sit just three points ahead of Detroit for last in the Eastern Conference. This is the kind of game that the Leafs should be very wary of. Buffalo is now playing a spoiler role.
The Leafs hold a 2-1 edge in the season series but their most recent meeting in February resulted in a 3-1 Buffalo win. The Sabres are very capable of winning this game.
Tonight, the Leafs must come out strong and dictate the pace of play for the entire 60 minutes. The game against Chicago last week was a blueprint for success despite the overtime loss.
This week has seen a rookie record fall with more to come over the last nine games. Nylander has a 10 game point streak going after a goal and assist performance on Thursday night. That surpasses Gus Bodner’s 73 year old nine game rookie point streak.
Mitch Marner’s next assist will set another Leaf rookie record. Thursday night, Marner’s 40th assist was the result of a James van Riemsdyk goal. Again, Gus Bodnar set the record during the 1943/1944 season for rookie assists. It is worth noting that Bodner played just 50 games that season. No matter though, Marner has exceeded expectations. All those questions of if he was NHL ready have been answered.
Auston Matthews potted his 33rd goal of the season to lead the team in scoring. Leafs legend Wendel Clark scored 34 goals in his rookie year. Matthews has nine games to tie and break Clark’s record from 1985/1986.
Also, the Leafs number one puck stopper has an outside chance of catching Ed Belfour and Andrew Raycroft for most Leaf wins in at season at 37. With nine games remaining, Andersen needs seven more wins to tie the record.
It has been an incredible resurgent season for the Toronto Maple Leafs. They have shown that they can skate and win against the best and have caught the attention of the entire hockey world.
There is real enthusiasm and optimism in the air. There was no selling of goods by management. The players have spoken for themselves. The young Leafs need to keep it real though and continue doing what they have been doing. Enter Brian Boyle. His presence has had a significant influence in the dressing room. No doubt Leaf fans are nervous. For many this is uncharted territory. For others, a season like this has been a long time coming. Nine games, 10 more points needed.
What do you think Leafs Nation? Discuss among yourselves.
Projected Line Combinations
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Hyman — Matthews — Nylander
Komarov — Kadri — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Martin — Boyle — Leivo
Rielly — Carrick
Gardiner — Zaitsev
Hunwick — Marchenko
O’Reilly — Eichel — Ennis
Kane — Girgensons — Bailey
Moulson — Reinhart — Gionta
Foligno — Rodrigues — Fasching
McCabe — Nelson
Austin — Bogosian