By Stan Smith
Since starting the season off with a pedestrian 4-4-2 record, the Toronto Maple Leafs have since posted a record of 18-3-4. That’s the second-best record in the NHL since the first of November. Unfortunately for the Maple Leafs, the team with the best record in that time period is the Boston Bruins, who have gone 20-3-3.
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The Current Status of the Atlantic Division
As of right now, the Atlantic Division standings look like this.
|Toronto Maple Leafs||35||50|
|Tampa Bay Lightning||33||43|
|Detroit Red Wings||33||37|
Even with the season less than halfway done, unless the Bruins collapse entirely, with a nine-point lead over the second-place Maple Leafs it appears that Boston finishing in first place is a given.
What About the Remaining Atlantic Division Teams?
Toronto is seven points up on Tampa Bay, but the Lightning has two games in hand over the Maple Leafs. If the Lightning can win both of those games, the spread between the two teams will tighten to only three points.
If we look below Tampa Bay in the standings, we see the Detroit Red Wings six points behind them in fourth place with the same number of games played. According to the NHL schedule, the Lightning and the Red Wings are scheduled to meet two more times this season. Those games will be played on February 25th in Detroit and then again on April 13th in Tampa.
If the Red Wings were to win both of those games, it would shrink Tampa Bay’s lead over Detroit to just two points. Those two wins would also help the Maple Leafs maintain their second-place position in the division as it would mean four fewer points for the Lightning.
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What This All Means for the Postseason
If the final standings in the Atlantic Division were identical to what they are now, the Maple Leafs would once again face the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs. If the Red Wings were to somehow overtake the Lightning in the standings, the Red Wings would be the team the Maple Leafs would take on.
Obviously, there are never any guarantees of winning during the playoffs. However, if the options are the Maple Leafs taking on the team that in the past three seasons has won two Stanley Cups and made it to the finals in the third year, or taking on a team that has not been past the first round of the playoffs in ten years, we have to think the preference would be the team that has not been the best team in the postseason over the past three seasons.
Would the Maple Leafs Prefer to Play the Lightning Again?
However, how would the Maple Leafs’ players feel about who they meet? Would they rather play the Lightning if they could?
Who’s to say the Maple Leafs couldn’t beat the Lightning in the first round this season? If not for a few controversial penalty calls and a hot goalie they could have defeated them last season.
Go Red Wings Go.
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