Load up the bus one last time, the Leafs are off to Winnipeg for potentially the last time in the 2021 NHL season as they look to end the season with their 7th win against the Jets.
With the division locked up and the round one opponent set in stone, tonight’s game may feel borderline meaningless (punctuated by yet another 8 p.m. start) but there still are playoff implications at play in the Leafs season finale. With their overtime loss to the Senators on Wednesday, the Leafs can no longer catch either of the top three teams (Carolina, Vegas, or President’s Trophy winning Colorado) in the standings, but fourth overall is still up for grabs, as a win tonight against the Jets would move the Leafs into a tie with the Florida for fourth where they would hold the tiebreaker. A fourth place finish would guarantee that the Leafs would avoid the winner of the West (presumably one of Colorado or Vegas) in round three, hold home ice against any team to come out of the East, leaving Carolina as the sole team to hold home ice over Toronto in any potential third round matchup.
A regulation loss meanwhile, even a mere one goal loss, would drop the Leafs to sixth. In this scenario, Toronto would end the season tied with Pittsburgh in total points, regulation wins, regulation/overtime wins, and (should the Leafs lose by one goal tonight) goal differential, leaving the final tie breaker of total goals to determine who finishes where, which, unless both offenses explode for a 13-12 Toronto loss tonight, would belong to Pittsburgh, which would propel them above Toronto into fifth. While nothing would be certain (Pittsburgh obviously could lose in one of the first two round given they have to go through one of Boston or Washington should the beat the Islanders,) the certainty of avoiding one of the two West Division heavyweights in round three would be beneficial to any team with Cup aspirations, and even though the only way a round three match between one of them in Toronto would hinge on Pittsburgh coming out of the East, I’m sure I speak for most Leafs fans when I say I would prefer it if the Leafs not chanced it.
The most important thing for the Leafs obviously will be maintaining health and perhaps trying to end the season on a high note with a win that could get some momentum going, but putting themselves in the best possible situation heading into the postseason still plays factor tonight.
Just get to overtime, lads.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Leafs Starting Goaltender: Jack Campbell
Jack Campbell gets the nod in the season finale as he looks to be the Leafs game one starter. A win tonight would be a fantastic end to a break out year for the 29-year-old, as he enters tonight with a 17-2-2 record, carrying a .923 save% with 2 shutouts.
Jets Starting Goaltender: Connor Hellebuyck
Like Campbell, Hellebuyck is Winnipeg’s presumed starter once the playoffs begin. The 27-year-old has added another stellar year that Jets fans can point to when arguing he is the best goaltender in the NHL, notching 23 wins, 4 shutouts, and a .915 save% behind what was once again a weak Winnipeg defensive core, keeping division hopes alive deep into the season.
Coverage for tonight’s season finale begins at 8 p.m. EST on TSN