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Maple Leafs confident they'll make playoffs

Despite back-to-back losses at home, Toronto controls destiny entering final weekend of season

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- The Toronto Maple Leafs are still confident they'll be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs even though they missed their first two chances to secure a postseason berth.

After losing 4-1 to the NHL-leading Washington Capitals on Tuesday, Toronto had a chance to lock up a playoff berth at Air Canada Centre on Thursday against the Tampa Bay Lightning, a desperate team that needed a win to keep its own chances alive. However, the Maple Leafs lost 4-1, and defenseman Morgan Rielly admitted Friday that the magnitude of trying to clinch a playoff berth for the first time since 2013 might have led to some extra nerves.

"[Thursday] more than the Washington game," Rielly said. "But it's all part of getting used to playing these type of games. I think we were a bit tight [Thursday] night given what's at stake. Moving forward, we have to work on that, be a bit more loose, just worry about what we can do."

Forward Brian Boyle, a veteran of 100 NHL playoff games who was acquired from the Lightning on Feb. 27, said the loss to Tampa Bay will serve as a good learning experience for the Maple Leafs who prepare for home games against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, ROOT, NHL.TV) and the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday.

"If you're in any kind of a clinching scenario or you have an opportunity close out a series, you're going to get the other team's best," Boyle said. "That was a desperate team that couldn't afford to give up even one point [Thursday] night. It was almost like an elimination game for them. It was a good lesson for us to learn in the regular season, that that's what an elimination team looks like. Even if they don't have guys in who have carried them all year, they're going to play desperate hockey. We can find that in ourselves; we've played that since I've been here and we've got to match that. It's a great challenge tomorrow night for us."

The Maple Leafs still control their own playoff destiny. Toronto is one point ahead of the Lightning and three points ahead of the New York Islanders for the second wild card into the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. They trail the Ottawa Senators by three points for second place in the Atlantic Division and the Boston Bruins by two points for third place. Toronto holds one game in hand on Boston.

"I don't know why we wouldn't," forward Auston Matthews said, when asked if the Maple Leafs feel confident. "We're in a good position, we just need a win. It's a great opportunity for us, especially in Toronto. We're having fun. We just want to go out there, play hockey, do the right things and I think it will take care of itself."

Coach Mike Babcock said, "We worked hard all year long to set ourselves up for these opportunities. We're in a great spot in game 81. We're set up good, so let's play like we can."

The message delivered by the coaching staff Friday was one of positivity.

"We had a good meeting today, and the biggest thing is playing with confidence and poise," forward Connor Brown said. "We feel good, we're in the driver's seat and we control our own fate. That's the spot we've put ourselves, which is good."

Video: BOS@TOR: Rielly puts home his own rebound with knee

Rielly said he and his teammates aren't feeling any extra pressure.

"There's pressure on every team to make the playoffs, not just us," Rielly said. "We have to go out, do our job and play our best hockey for two games. If you'd told us in October that we'd be in a position to win a game or two and be in a playoff spot, we'll take that all the time. There's no added pressure because of where we play."

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