Winners of six of their last seven games, the Maple Leafs are unable to get any closer than three points away from the eighth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot.
They are just about out of time. Any combinations of Leaf losses and a win by the Sabres or Rangers ends the Maple Leaf bid for a post-season appearance. The Leafs magic number is one.
To understand the difficulty in making ground, consider Sunday’s action where the New York Rangers beat Philadelphia 3-2 while Buffalo beat Carolina. Both were three-point games, meaning the Sabres earned two points.
The Maple Leafs go into the last week of the season, with a game Tuesday against Washington at home, Wednesday in New Jersey and Saturday against the Canadiens at Air Canada Centre. They need to hit the lottery.
Here’s the scenario.
Buffalo: The Sabres have 90 points, the Leafs 84. If the Leafs and Sabres end up tied at season’s end with 90 points, the Leafs win the tie-breaker. Obviously that means three Toronto wins and three Buffalo losses. The Sabres close out their schedule with games against the Lightning and Flyers at home and a road game against the Blue Jackets.
New York: The Leafs’ chances for the catching the Rangers are nearly as remote. As mentioned, the Maple Leafs can earn a maximum of 90 points. The Rangers sit at 89. One win or two overtime losses pushes them to 91 and home free. Likewise any Leaf defeat in the next three games guarantees the Rangers advance. The Rangers close out with three home games against the Bruins, Thrashers and Devils.