by Gord Stellick
TORONTO -- For Leaf fans who generally ride their emotions with the team's most recent game, it's a pretty heady few days after the Toronto Maple Leafs' impressive 3-1 win in Philadelphia on Sunday. But, if the short-term high includes expecting this type of result throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs, that's slightly presumptuous and unrealistic.
In the playoffs the Leafs' ultimate goal is winning the Stanley Cup (like every other team), but a more reasonable goal is to get by a team like the New Jersey Devils, making it one-round deeper than last year. Still not a Stanley Cup, but a more practical goal.
The best strike against the Devils was the Leafs' addition (and New Jersey's subtraction) of free agent Alexander Mogilny. Throw in the rise of Mats Sundin as an impact player, an off year by Scott Gomez and an older and less effective Scott Stevens, as other reasons why the Leafs could get past their rival.
| Alex Mogilny was a big acquisition for the Leafs last summer. |
Graig Abel Photography
The Leafs have done a decent job improving themselves while trying to erase their nemesis in the Meadowlands, but there are new and better playoff roadblocks set in Philadelphia, Boston and Ottawa.
Despite the Leafs' success on Sunday, the Philadelphia Flyers are a whole different story. Free agent Jeremy Roenick has delivered as their leading scorer and a healthy John LeClair has rounded into form after missing practically all of last season with his back ailment.
Gold medal winner Simon Gagne is healthy and continues to flourish as one of the top young players in the NHL today. Kim Johnsson has proven to be the best of the Eric Lindros trade package and is one of the top offensive defencemen in the NHL.
Mature rookie Jiri Dopita brings an air of mystery and optimism to the Flyers while a recently healthy Rick Tocchet, who turns 38 on April 9, will play like a man 15-years younger once the playoffs begin.
The Boston Bruins have emerged as the best young teams in the Eastern Conference while the Ottawa Senators, the Leafs' playoff doormat the last two years, have an offensive spark and intensity that they feel should pay dividends in this spring's playoffs.
All three of these Eastern Conference teams have made more significant improvement heading into this year's playoffs than the Leafs.
This reality has to spur Coach/GM Pat Quinn and company into some form of action(s) by the NHL's trade deadline of 3:00 p.m. on Tuesday, March 19th.