Friday, April 26, 2013

Nine-year playoff drought finally ends for Toronto Maple Leafs

The Toronto Maple Leafs have finally returned to the NHL playoffs after nine long years. The Leafs clinched a berth in the postseason with a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators in Ottawa on April 20. Goaltender James Reimer made 49 saves to help the Leafs clinch their position. The Winnipeg Jets lost earlier in the day 5-4 to the New York Islanders. Although Winnipeg can mathematically catch Toronto on points at 55, the Leafs would win the tiebreaker.

Since Toronto has 25 wins in regulation and overtime Winnipeg can reach just 24 regulation and overtime victories the Leafs would take the last playoff spot. The NHL doesn’t include shootout wins in its tiebreaking system. After the win over Ottawa, the Leafs were sitting in fifth place in the Eastern Conference. However, that doesn’t mean they’ll finish there as there are still three games remaining for the team. They could finish either higher or lower in the standings, but are guaranteed to be in the top eight.

The last time Toronto made the playoffs was in 2004 and there drought was the current longest in the league. Head coach Randy Carlyle said Leafs fans have had a lot of sand kicked in their faces since 2004, but they can now have something to cheer for. The game in Ottawa was close up until the last few minutes of the contest and it looked like the Leafs may have to wait until another day to clinch their spot. However, late goals by Joffrey Lupul and Nazem Kadri turned a 2-1 lead into a 4-1 advantage. Reimer was the hero though as Toronto was outshot 51-26.

Reimer seems to own the Senators as he has an 8-1-1 career record against Toronto’s Ontario rivals. He also shut the Senators out 2-0 in Ottawa earlier in the season. The loss meant Ottawa fell to seventh place in the East and they’re just three points ahead of the ninth-place Jets, but they do have a game in hand. Toronto has an outside chance of finishing in the top four in their conference as they sit four points behind the Boston Bruins, who occupied fourth spot after the Leafs clinched.

Right winger Phil Kessel, who is the Leafs leading point getter, said it’s a great feeling to make the playoffs, but the season isn’t over yet and the team needs to keep on going. He said they can’t afford to relax and must go into the postseason playing their best hockey not their worst. The win against Ottawa came after Toronto had lost two games in a row and had allowed 10 goals against in them.

While the long playoff drought may now be over, Toronto still has another drought to contend with, which is winning the Stanley Cup. The Leafs, one of the NHL’s original six teams, haven’t won the trophy since the 1966-67 season. They haven’t even made it to a Stanley Cup final series since then. However, fans are taking their upturn in fortune just one step at a time.

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