FLYERS (31-26-8) at LEAFS (29-22-14)
7:30 pm (SNO)
A regulation win. A February 19th victory over the Hurricanes was the last time the Leafs put things to bed, only needing 3 periods.
It was a welcome result against the Detroit Red Wings in a 3-2 win coming off a disappointing 3 game road trip through California which saw the Leafs pick up only 1 of an available 6 points. If the Leafs want to compete in this years edition of the Stanley Cup Playoffs, they’re going to need get on a roll and now would be a great time. With only 17 games left, there is still some low hanging fruit in the remaining schedule. Here are the Leafs remaining games at a glance:
I see no reason why we cannot win 12 of 17 games which would see us finish with 96 points. That should be good for a playoff seed. It would be unlikely to see a clean 12-5 record over the balance of the season given the way things have gone this year but you get the point. 24 points over the remaining 17 games should do the trick. This next stretch is where the rubber hits the road for Toronto and there is not much room left for error. If this is a playoff team, we’re about to find out.
Tonight’s matchup serves up a terrific opportunity to put some distance on a key rival in pursuit of the Leafs in the standings and these are the types of games that the Leafs need to cash in on to stay competitive for some spring hockey. The Flyers sit directly behind the Maple Leafs, only two points back. A loss would certainly tighten things up and make life more difficult for the Blue and White down the stretch. A win would grant the buds a little breathing room in the wildcard race. The Islanders hold the final wildcard spot at present with 73 points and 65 games played. The Bruins sit in the 3rd and final Atlantic playoff seed with 74 points and 66 games played. The Leafs have 72 points after 65 games.
“We all know it’s a four-point game and we can catch these guys in the standings,” Brayden Schenn remarked after Tuesday’s practice at the Air Canada Centre. “They are playing good hockey with a lot of high-skilled guys. This is our chance.”
“It’s obviously in the back of our mind,” team captain Claude Giroux admitted. “We want to be in a position where the last 10 games we can make a real push. Games like [tomorrow] are real big games.”
Much has been made of the Leafs 2nd overall power play this season. Watch for this to become a factor if the Flyers get into penalty trouble. They sport a less than stellar 17th overall penalty kill. The Leafs would be wise to keep their feet moving to allow this advantage to play a factor. The Flyers aren’t doing themselves any favours during 5 on 5 play either though, ranking 26th in the NHL, lighting the lamp 97 times at evens this season.
Michal Neuvirth is 10-9-1 on the season with a .887 save percentage and is expected to get the nod in net for the Flyers. Frederik Andersen is 25-14-13 this year with a .916 save percentage and is also expected to start.
Leafs centre Tyler Bozak is a game time decision with an undisclosed injury but is expected to play.
I’m reluctant to call any contest a must win game. There are too many variables, even with only 17 games remaining. Games like this against teams below the Leafs in the standings however, present extremely valuable opportunities to earn points towards the drive to the 95-96 points likely needed to qualify for the post season.. If we don’t win these, we won’t like the opponents we see when the term “must win game” applies.
Projected Line Combinations
Toronto Maple Leafs
Komarov — Kadri — Nylander
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Hyman — Matthews — Brown
Martin — Boyle — Soshnikov
Gardiner — Marchenko
Hunwick — Polak
Weal — Giroux — Simmonds
Schenn — Filppula — Voracek
Cousins — Couturier — Read
VandeVelde — Bellemare — Konecny
Provorov — MacDonald
Manning — Gostisbehere
Del Zotto — Gudas