MAPLE LEAFS (38-24-15) at BUFFALO (32-34-12)
7:00 pm (SN)
Well, it has come down to the final week of the 2016/2017 NHL season. That is to say, despite the nay sayers, the Toronto Maple Leafs are sitting in the drivers seat in securing a post season birth.
The magic number is now 2.5 games. Any combination of Tampa Bay losing 5 points out of their final four games and/or the Leafs gaining 5 points from their final five games will secure at least the second wild card berth in this years playoffs.
Having said all that, the focus needs to be on tonight’s match up when the Leafs take to the ice at the First Niagara Center in Buffalo, NY.
This will be the fifth and final contest this season with each team having won two games a piece. The last time these two teams met, Buffalo skated away with a 5-2 win on March 26th. The previous match? Buffalo won 3-1. If you are a believer in momentum, it certainly appears Buffalo has the inside track. The Sabres are 5-5-0 over their last 10 games and have lost two in a row.
Alex Nylander will be making his NHL debut tonight for the Sabres. The Nylander name is now a solid pedigree in the NHL as older brother William is having a tremendous season playing for the Leafs. Both boys father, Michael Nylander, played 920 games in the NHL. Earlier this season, older brother William hinted that Alex is the better player. Leaf fans will no doubt hope that those words do not come back to haunt them tonight.
Buffalo will be motivated in the role of spoiler. Last weeks game saw a huge influx of Leaf fans making the short trip across the US border to take in the game. It seems that the Buffalo players were able to ramp up their game in light of the sea of Leaf jerseys and chants.
As mentioned earlier, the Leafs are very much in control of their playoff destiny. Currently, Toronto sits third in the Atlantic Division after briefly holding onto the second spot over the weekend. Thanks to the Bruins win streak and the Ottawa Senators recent failings, along with the excellent play of the Leafs.
Toronto seems to be peaking at the right time. They are 7-2-1 over their past 10 and have won three in a row. It is worth noting that Toronto has gained points in 15 of the last 20 games. Their power play is second best in the league, penalty kill ranks eighth overall and the offense clicks at fifth best. Defense continues to be the teams weak spot. Expect that to be addressed this summer.
Speaking of defence, former Leaf Cody Franson has publicly stated that he would be interested in rejoining the Leafs this summer. Franson will be an unrestricted free agent come July 01. It is also worth noting that Frason turned down a contract extension under the former Leafs Nonis regime.
Chelsi Darlington is a long time contributor for Leafs Hub. When asked this afternoon for a comment, she had this to say. . .
“His AAV isn’t bad. Willing to bet he’s comparing the ‘rebuild’ in Buffalo to the one going on in Toronto and is salivating at the thought of being with a team on the upward swing. Also bet dollars to donuts he’d take a hometown discount. This is an instance where the grass is DEFINITELY greener on the other side.”
Darlington also had this to offer . . .
“Leafs need some depth on the right. He could be a good addition provided his foot “issues” are a one-off and not something consistently problematic. Plus side is that it’s always nice to see a player that’s ecstatic about joining (or re-joining, in this case) a team that was his childhood favourite.”
What do you think Leafs Nation? Should the Leafs take a closer look at Franson?
As always, please discuss among yourselves.
Projected Line Combinations
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
Hyman — Matthews — W. Nylander
Komarov — Kadri — Brown
van Riemsdyk — Bozak — Marner
Martin — Boyle — Kapanen
Rielly — Carrick
Gardiner — Zaitsev
Hunwick — Polak
Kane — O’Reilly — Ennis
Gionta — Eichel — Reinhart
Foligno — Rodrigues — A. Nylander
Carrier — Girgensons — Moulson
McCabe — Ristolainen
Georges — Franson
Bogosian — Kulikov