At stake: Detroit’s 22-year playoff streak and Toronto’s postseason hopes. (Dave Reginek/NHLI via Getty Images)
By Allan Muir
After the Maple Leafs stormed into Los Angeles and upended the Kings on March 13, SportsClubStats.com projected Toronto as having an 89.7 percent chance of securing a spot in the playoffs.
What a difference 10 days can make.
A listless performance against New Jersey on Sundaty night led to Toronto’s fifth consecutive loss. As a result, the Leafs’ postseason chances have dwindled to just 34.5 percent today, forcing a team that was comfortably situated as an Atlantic Division qualifier just a few days ago into a battle for its life as the regular season winds down.
Even after their stumble, the Leafs have 80 points, good enough for the second wild card berth in the Eastern Conference … for now, anyway. It’s better to be in than out, but Toronto is vulnerable. The Leafs have played 73 games, one more than the Washington Capitals (31.8 percent), who trail them by one point, and two above Columbus (56.6 percent).
It’s no surprise that these clubs find themselves battling each other for the scraps. All three are middle of the road teams, predestined for the murky fringes by their youth (Jackets) or uneven foundations (Caps and Leafs). Add in an injury-ravaged Red Wings team (68.9 percent) and an underperforming Rangers squad (95 percent) that is currently holding down the third spot in the Metropolitan Division and you have five clubs challenging for three spots in the East.