2000. That is the last time the Leafs have had the best record in their division in the regular season. It wasn’t quite as decisively as the Leafs have done it this year, as they won the division with 100 points, five more than the second place team in the Northeast division, the Ottawa Senators, who they would also go on to play in the first round.
Since then, the Leafs have struggled to be as dominant in their division as that. Those early 00’s teams were consistently in the playoffs, but could never be as dominant in the regular season as the Sens and Boston Bruins. After the lockout, they were bad for 10 of the next 11 seasons, with the one team sneaking in being the overperforming 2012-13 team that finished third in their own division. After that year, the division alignments also changed, another factor that would contribute to the Leafs division title struggles, as once they finally got competitive in 2016-17, it was at the same time as the still dominant Tampa Bay Lightning and Boston Bruins teams.
Now, you could argue that their success this year comes with an asterisk. After all, they needed to move away from a division with Boston and Tampa to be this dominant, and it’s also in a division that wasn’t as strong as other divisions. But, at least their consistent. If you look at Tampa’s season, it’s mostly been beating on the weaker teams in the division, while going .500 against the other competitive teams in their division. Likewise, Boston has basically just been beating up on the Sabres and Flyers (while also dropping 5 of 8 to the Devils as well), with other games against playoff teams have been relatively close. The Leafs have been beating up on every team in their division, whether it’s the non-playoff teams, the “juggernaut” Habs, the two headed monster in Edmonton, or the rock solid Connor Hellebuyck in Winnipeg.
What we’re actually just witnessing is a really good Leafs team. In fact, it might be one of the best of all time, considering they have the highest points percentage in franchise history with only three games left. Of course, there are at least 13 other teams that are better, because they finished the season hoisting the Stanley Cup, but for now, let’s enjoy the regular season the Leafs have been having, because even that kind of success has been rare for this franchise.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs Starting Goalie: Jack Campbell
With a chance to clinch the division, it’s hard to not see the Leafs looking to Campbell to help lock it up. He probably at most plays one of the remaining two games after this if they do, but for now, Jack has been the guy for the second half of the season, so he’s going to be the guy in a big game tonight.
Habs Starting Goalie: Jake Allen
With Price still out for the time being with a concussion, Allen is the Habs starter for now. It’s a big game for them as well as they’re looking to clinch the final playoff spot in the North division, and with Allen playing well against the Leafs on Monday and Thursday in relief, and Primeau looking pretty rough against them in the first period on Thursday’s game, it was probably an easy decision to make.
You can catch the game on Sportsnet tonight, with the usual Saturday night 7pm start time.