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Maple Leafs relied on depth, home ice to clinch berth

Toronto makes playoffs in consecutive seasons for first time since 2004

by Mike Zeisberger @zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- For the first time in 14 years, the Toronto Maple Leafs will be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

The Maple Leafs (46-24-7, 99 points) clinched a postseason berth when the Ottawa Senators defeated the Florida Panthers 3-2 in overtime Thursday. Toronto will be in the postseason for a second consecutive spring, something they haven't accomplished since qualifying in 2003 and 2004 under then-coach Pat Quinn.

With five regular-season games remaining, Toronto is third place in the Atlantic Division, seven points behind the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning and 13 ahead of the fourth-place Panthers. 

Video: Toronto clinches a berth to the Stanley Cup Playoffs

The Maple Leafs were eliminated by the Washington Capitals in six games in the Eastern Conference First Round last season.

Here are five reasons the Maple Leafs clinched a playoff berth:

 

1. Scoring depth

Forward James van Riemsdyk leads the Maple Leafs with 35 goals. He plays on the third line.

Such is the depth Toronto has at forward. 

It is the only NHL team to have three 30-plus goal scorers this season (van Riemsdyk 35, Nazem Kadri 30, Auston Matthews 30). Patrick Marleau (25) and Mitchell Marner (21) have more than 20. 

Video: FLA@TOR: Matthews beats Luongo with slick wrister

"It's a great luxury to have," van Riemsdyk said. "Teams can't concentrate on just one or two lines because you never know where the goals are going to come from. 

"Every night it seems to be someone different coming up big. That's just what successful teams do."

 

2. One-two punch in goal

Goaltender Frederik Andersen, with a 36-20-5 record, a 2.81 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage, arguably has been the Maple Leafs MVP this season. He's one away from the Toronto record for wins in a season, held by Ed Belfour (2002-03) and Andrew Raycroft (2006-07).

Backup Curtis McElhinney (10-4-1, 2.09 GAA, .935 SV%) has proven to be a fill-in his teammates can be confident in. Andersen and McElhinney have given the Maple Leafs their most consistent goaltending in years.

"I've become more and more comfortable with the spotlight of Toronto," said Andersen, who spent his first three NHL seasons with the Anaheim Ducks (2013-16). "People here love and embrace the game so much, it rubs off on everyone.

"Curtis has been great. Whenever we've needed him, he's stepped in. I couldn't have a better guy to work with."

Video: MTL@TOR: McElhinney makes 33 saves in shutout win

 

3. Home sweet home

The win against the Panthers on Thursday was the Maple Leafs' 27th at Air Canada Centre this season, setting a Toronto record; the previous mark of 26 was set in 2005-06, Quinn's final season as Maple Leafs coach.

Their 27-9-2 mark at home included a Toronto record 13-game home winning streak from Jan. 31-March 24.

"Obviously you want to be comfortable in your own building," coach Mike Babcock said. "I think it's great. They feel good and they have a good chance to win."

Forward Mitchell Marner said he feels many opponents elevate their games at Air Canada Centre because they grew up in southern Ontario and are playing in front of family and friends. At the same time, he said he thinks it works both ways.

"There are a lot of guys in the League from this area, sure," Marner said. "So it's understandable that it's a big deal to play in this building. But that's the thing. It is for us, too."

 

4. Speed thrills

Ask Marner who is the fastest Maple Leafs player, and his answer can be found on the wing of the fourth line.

"Kaspari Kapanen for sure," Marner said. "We have a quick team, but he is at another level."

With the likes of forwards Marner, Kapanen, Matthews, Marleau, William Nylander and defensemen Morgan Rielly, Jake Gardiner and Travis Dermott, Toronto can match up with any opponent that wants to ramp up the speed.

Video: DET@TOR: Nylander nets Matthews' pretty pass

"You have to stick to your system," Montreal Canadiens coach Claude Julien said. "They are as fast as anyone in the League and they'll make you pay if you give them too much ice."

 

5. Special teams times two

Coaches will tell you the game is all about special teams. If so, the Maple Leafs are the perfect example of that credo.

Their special teams rank in the top six in the League; the power play is third (23.5 percent) and the penalty kill is sixth (82.7 percent). Defenseman Ron Hainsey leads the NHL in penalty-kill ice time with 295:26, 44:13 more than Boston Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, who is second with 251:13.

"It's a game of specialty now and you have to be good in all aspects," Babcock said. "When our power play is going, it gives us momentum, which is important for a young team."

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