As everyone knows, the Toronto Maple Leafs clinched their second consecutive post-season berth Thursday night when the Ottawa Senators did them a favour and defeated the Florida Panthers.
This is the first time in 14 years that the Maple Leafs have made it to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons. The last time this happened, Mitch Marner was six-years-old, and Toronto had Pat Quinn as their head coach. Mats Sundin and Bryan McCabe were on the roster.
As of press time, the Maple Leafs are 46-24-7 with 99 points. That puts them third in the Atlantic Division with five games to go.
Last season, Toronto saw their playoff hopes extinguished early as they met the Washington Capitals in the first round. They were eliminated in six games.
It’s always tempting to say that this year will be different, but the Maple Leafs have it in them to enjoy at least some post-season success.
For one, their scoring is on-point.
Toronto is the only NHL team to have three players with 30 or more goals. James van Riemsdyk leads the way with 35 goals, while Nazem Kadri and Auston Matthews have 30. Patrick Marleau has 25 goals and Marner has 21, just to put things in perspective.
This set-up should allow the Maple Leafs to roll a balanced offensive threat that goes beyond two top lines.
T-Dot is also deadly at home. They’re 27-9-2 at the Air Canada Centre and set a Toronto record when they hit their 27th home victory over Florida on March 28. They reached 26 home wins in 2005-2006, back when Quinn put in his last season as Maple Leafs head coach.
Along with offensive prowess and home ice dominance, this version of this hockey club can make magic on special teams.
The penalty kill is sixth overall at 82.7 percent, while their power play is third overall at 23.5 percent. Ron Hainsey has led the charge on the PK, leading the NHL in short-handed total ice time with 296:26 minutes. That nudges out the second-place penalty killer, Boston’s Zdeno Chara, by more than 44 minutes.
For Toronto fans, appearing in the playoffs in consecutive seasons is a rare thing. But getting to the dance is only part of the battle and these Maple Leafs have unfinished business in the post-season. This year, they could pull off a few surprises on their way to setting a new tone in the second season. They certainly have the skill and wherewithal to make something special happen.