Are the Toronto Maple Leafs a Dark Horse Candidate for the Playoffs?
If you look at the standings right now (February 25), you’ll see the Toronto Maple Leafs in 10th place, and just 4 points out of a playoff spot. While starting the season 4-0-0 they went downhill, and with both J.S. Giguere and Jonas Gustavsson unavailable (Giguere, although injured, might return in a backup role Saturday versus Pittsburgh while Gustavsson has had to deal with another heart issue and currently in the middle of an AHL conditioning assignment), James Reimer has become a breakout star, and in all likelihood should be at least considered for the Calder Trophy, being only 22 years of age and in the middle of his first real NHL season. Of course, credit to the Leafs’ revival as of late shouldn’t be solely placed towards him. His teammates have been stepping up too, despite losing Tomas Kaberle to a trade that sent him to the Boston Bruins, while picking up a first-round draft pick (although not the one they sent away nearly two seasons ago). Phil Kessel has managed to find his scoring touch again, having ended a lengthy drought in a recent game against his former team, striking twice at the Garden. Yep. Things are starting to look up for the Leafs, who are sitting at .500 for the first time in a long time. The chase is on, and that dark horse status is one that should be considered. Of course, they won’t be the only ones knocking on the door of a playoff berth. The New Jersey Devils are also making a push upwards, having brought Jacques Lemaire out of retirement after former Devils player John McLean failed to inspire the troops, being let go just before Christmas. The New York Islanders are also looking upward, despite losing so many man games to injuries. Give credit to those teams for showing true grit and determination, and a never-say-die attitude. The chase for 8th in the Eastern Conference will definitely be an interesting one, given that those teams are chasing Buffalo, Carolina, and the New York Rangers (and in the case of the Devils and Isles, Florida).