The Leafs have a chance to clinch a playoff spot for the eighth straight season tonight
Photo credit: Toronto Maple Leafs on X/Twitter

Leafs need some help from Flyers, Lightning to clinch a playoff spot

Published April 1, 2024 at 4:08 PM

The Toronto Maple Leafs have found themselves in a position to be able to clinch a playoff spot on Monday, but they'll need some help from the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers in order to do so.

On March 8th, better known as Trade Deadline Day, the Toronto Maple Leafs were cruising along with an 8 point lead over the first wild card position and a matchup with the Boston Bruins or Florida Panthers in the first round seemed inevitable. Fast forward to today where the Leafs sit just four points ahead of the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are in the first wild card position, with the two clubs meeting Wednesday night. Tonight, however, the Leafs welcome the Florida Panthers to Scotiabank Arena in a huge game for both teams. If the Leafs were to escape with a regulation win, they would move to within four points of the Panthers for second in the Atlantic, while a Panthers win would tie them in points with Boston, but due to the first tie-breaker being regulation wins, Florida would vault into first in the Atlantic.

With the Leafs and Lightning both playing tonight, the Leafs could close some distance on the Panthers, fall to within two points of Tampa if they lose and the Lightning win, or remain 4 points up on Tampa if both teams lose in Tampa. Playoff race positioning aside, however, tonight's game gives the Leafs an opportunity to clinch a playoff birth for the eighth straight season. Here's what would need to happen for the Leafs to clinch tonight, according to the NHL's PR department:

The Leafs could clinch a playoff spot if they defeat the Panthers in regulation AND both of the following results should occur:
[1] The Red Wings lose to the Lightning in regulation
[2] Any result in Flyers-Islanders game other than an Islanders win in overtime

OR If they defeat the Panthers in overtime or shootout AND both
of the following results should occur:
[1] The Red Wings lose to the Lightning in regulation
[2] Any result in the Flyers-Islanders game other than an Islanders win in overtime or shootout.

The Leafs will have their hands full trying to contain the Panthers' well-balanced offence led by 51-goal scorer Sam Reinhart, but Panthers head coach Paul Maurice knows they will have just as difficult of a time containing Auston Matthews and the Leafs high-powered offense.

"Well, man, what game is it? 74? He's got 60 (goals) so nobody's figured that out. I'm not the smartest guy in the league. I'm just going to put a bunch of guys out and hope they defend the hell out of it, if they can." -
Panthers coach Paul Maurice on shutting down Auston Matthews

So far, Florida has been able to contain him as Matthews is minus-3 with zero points and 11 shots in two games against the Panthers this season. If tonight's game is anything like the first two meetings, it will be a tightly contested game with a playoff-like physicality and atmosphere.

"I'm expecting a fun one. It's gonna be physical. It's gonna be direct. It's gonna be high intensity. It's gonna feel like a playoff game. It's a potential playoff matchup, so it's gonna be everything you expect," Leafs forward Ryan Reaves told reporters following today's morning skate.

Reaves continued by saying that tonight is the type of game is one where you want to send a message, which is something the Leafs are still looking to do following Sam Bennett's attack on Matthew Knies in Game 2 of their second-round series last year.

"When you play a team that you might play in the playoffs twice in the last 10 games, you want to put your best foot forward. Not only that, but you want to send a message."
-Reaves on the Leafs taking the Panthers seriously tonight

Tonight's matchup pits one of the league's best defensive teams against one of the league's best offensive teams, as the Leafs have scored the most goals in the Eastern Conference, and the Panthers have given up the fewest in the league. The Panthers, however and have won just two of their past eight games and are 4-5-1 in their last 10, opening the door for the Leafs to take advantage of their struggles and simultaneously close the gap on them for second in the Atlantic and hopefully expand their lead over Tampa In the process.

If the Leafs add to Florida's struggles and go on a bit of a run this month, they have the opportunity to vault over the Panthers for second in the Atlantic Division, thereby giving them home ice advantage in the first round. It would also increase the likelihood of the two teams meeting in the first round for what would be one of the most entertaining series in recent memory. This isn't their final meeting of the season, though, as they meet for the fourth and final time on April 18th in Florida in a game that could decide final playoff seeding for the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs for more than just themselves.

April 1   |   254 answers
Leafs need some help from Flyers, Lightning to clinch a playoff spot

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