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Maple Leafs happy for 'our loyal fan base'

Toronto makes playoffs for second time in 13 years

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs will participate in Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second time in 13 years after clinching a 2017 berth on Saturday with a 5-3 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It's a good win for our city and our loyal fan base," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said. "I think for them, as much as getting in the playoffs is important to them, they see the future holds an opportunity to have a chance to be a good team."

The win completed the Eastern Conference playoff field and eliminated the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Islanders from contention.

Toronto (40-26-15) is tied with the Boston Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division with a game remaining Sunday against the Columbus Blue Jackets (6 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, SN, FS-O, NHL.TV). 

With one point Sunday, the Maple Leafs will finish third and play the Ottawa Senators in the Eastern Conference First Round. If Toronto loses in regulation, it would be the second wild card and play the top-seeded Washington Capitals.

 

[RELATED: Maple Leafs clinch playoff berth with late goal]

 

"I think we'll be better tomorrow to be honest with you, because even though it's back-to-back, our guys will be looser again," Babcock said. "When you're a good pro and you've been around a long time, you get used to winning and the big games make you better. When you're a kid, the big games sometimes make you nervous."

Defenseman Roman Polak, in his second tour with the Maple Leafs after signing as a free agent in the offseason, said he wasn't thinking a playoff berth would be possible this quickly with a team featuring so many rookies (10 have played for Toronto this season; six have played at least 76 games).

"I don't think we had a goal like that," Polak said. "In the beginning, it was just baby steps and just focus on our game and how we need to play every night. The beginning was a little tougher, but then we got together since Christmas and we were playing better hockey, Maple Leafs hockey, and that's why we're in the playoffs."

The Maple Leafs are the first team to qualify for the playoffs after finishing 30th (last) in the previous season since the Philadelphia Flyers in 2007-08.

"It's huge, that's why you play the game," said Maple Leafs rookie forward Connor Brown, who scored the game-winning goal Saturday. "You play to win and you play to give yourself a chance to win the Stanley Cup. To give ourselves a chance, especially from where this team came from in under a year, it's pretty awesome to be a part of."

It is the first time since 2004 the Maple Leafs qualified for the playoffs in an 82-game season. Its most-recent appearance was after the 2012-13 season that was shortened to 48 games.

"It means everything," said Maple Leafs rookie forward Auston Matthews, who scored his 40th goal Saturday. "Now we have a really good opportunity."

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