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Does the Hab resurgence give genuine hope to Leaf fans—or is it a mirage?

The unexpected playoff success of the Habs may be just another case of a team “getting hot” at the right time. Both Calgary and Edmonton, for example, came painfully close to a Cup just a few years ago on the heels of similar success, and neither has come close since. Some players who were outstanding in those playoff runs have never recaptured that extra something that saw them play their best hockey.

On the other hand, is this a case where a team has been rebuilt (under Bob Gainey) and it may actually lead to Montreal being a consistent threat for the next several years?

It really is impossible to say. A month ago no one was giving Gainey credit for his decisions last summer to allow Komisarek to walk and to acquire or sign veterans Gill, Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez. Suddenly, Montreal is playing well and they seem like a team perfectly built for the "new" era of playoff hockey: great goaltending, speed and tight defense.

So where does this leave the Leafs? Burke has reiterated he’s in no mood for a long-term rebuild and wants to build a winner now. Will he be able to keep making the kind of moves that will enable the Leafs to contend soon- just like the Habs?

We should make no mistake: the Habs are where they are because of one goalie getting extraordinarily hot at the right time. He may become an all-time great, or never play like this again, but Halak, at the moment, seems to be in one of those prolonged streaks where he plays ‘lights out’ more often than he has an off-night.

But they have also had big-time efforts from the classic role players- Moen, Moore, Pyatt, Lapierre and others. While their defense is not star-studded, it boasts some well-worn veterans. They have overcome key injuries (e.g. Markov) and have also used a dash of youth (Subban) to help create this improbable turnaround.

So, projecting twelve months out, do the Leafs have similar pieces that can translate into post-season success? Or, like Montreal did a year ago, can they at least acquire them in the off-season?

This playoff year has proven, if nothing else, you don’t need to be- or have- Patrick Roy, Martin Brodeur or Dominik Hasek to get hot in the playoffs. This spring’s goaltending heroes have been fellows such as Boucher, Niemi, Rask and Halak. Next year it may be a bunch of other guys, maybe even Gustavsson or Giguerre (Giguerre certainly has the playoff pedigree).

The Leafs have dependable, experienced rearguards in Komisarek and Beachemin (and Kaberle?), a young All-Star in Phaneuf and a rising standout in Gunnarsson, along with an emerging Schenn.

Up front is where they, on paper, lack depth. But so do the Habs. Who thought, a month ago, that Montreal had the forwards to accomplish what they have? Much like Gilmour did for the Leafs in ’93, Cammalleri has grabbed Montreal and carried the team on his back, but he can’t do it alone. Everyone has played their guts out, and they’re heading to the final four as a result.

That’s what a winning playoff team needs.

In a best-case scenario next spring, Kessel, Bozak and Kulemin will lead Toronto to the playoffs and be the offensive backbone. Some yet-to-be-determined center will come on board and play a key role. Youngsters such as Hanson and Stalberg and Kadri will make major strides. Sjostrom would lead the always-essential penalty-killing effort.

Most importantly, the Leafs, in this scenario, earn a playoff spot with a late push, and start to build momentum as the first round unfolds.

Like Montreal now, they keep winning enough to stay alive, as their confidence grows by the day.

Do I think this will happen? No, I don’t. But I also thought Montreal was the team least likely to advance in this year’s Eastern Conference playoffs.

Based on what we’ve seen this spring, and the way the Eastern Conference has evolved in recent years, the Leafs really do just need to make the playoffs. Then, it seems, anything really can happen.
Toronto Maple Leafs hockey blog

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