At 87 points, the Toronto Maple Leafs are set to make the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs as they currently have the third most points in the Eastern Conference and have a 12 point lead over the Florida Panthers, who are in fourth place in the Atlantic Division.
Maple Leafs nation need to be excited that they are set to make the playoffs for the second straight year, but the question now is how deep of a run can they actually make? Are they able to beat the Tampa Bay Lightning, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins in a best out of seven series?
There are two major issues facing the Maple Leafs at the moment. The health of Auston Matthews and their defensive depth. Matthews has not played since February 22 because of a shoulder ailment, and the longer he is out of the lineup, the more questions will be asked in the hockey media frenzy capital of the world.
Matthews will soon be returning to the lineup and should provide Toronto an offensive boost as they are only 2-2-2 in his absence. The most striking loss recently came on March 5 in a 5-3 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. The Sabres do have some offensive punch of their own, but losing to a team that has the fewest points in the NHL does not really enhance a team’s confidence heading into the postseason.
Matthews may not be leading the Maple Leafs in points, but in 53 games, still leads Toronto in goals (28), and plus/minus at +23. In only his second NHL season, Matthews is showing a strong combination of discipline and defensive consistency. Not only does he have the sixth highest plus/minus amongst centers in the NHL (behind William Karlsson of the Vegas Golden Knights at +37, Yanni Gourde of the Tampa Bay Lightning at +29, Jonathan Marchessault of the Golden Knights at +28 and Patrice Bergeron of the Boston Bruins and Sean Couturier of the Philadelphia Flyers at +26), but he also only has six penalty minutes this season. Matthews is showing leadership well beyond his years and will be very important to the Leafs if they hope to win their first Stanley Cup since 1967.
Meanwhile on defense, the Maple Leafs got great offensive production from Morgan Reilly in their 5-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday. He will need to continue his production for the Maple Leafs to be effective. The bottom line is offense from their defense is something the Leafs have never been known for and Toronto could really use some of their blueliners to overachieve in the next couple of months.