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Who would you like to see the Leafs match up with in the playoffs? Who do they match up best against?

After dismantling the Senators Saturday night (I’m not sure what else we can say about Kadri and Lupul…on the fourth Leaf goal, I focused on Kadri; he just has a knack for finding guys and getting to the open space, seemingly always with his stick on the ice), it’s clear by now the Maple Leafs will march into the playoffs this spring for the first time since 2004.  They have cemented that point with a recent run of play that has shown they can play (at least in the regular-season) with anyone on the Eastern Conference, home and away.

One of the keys going forward will be staying healthy.  Oh, they have depth, yes, on defense and along the forward lines as well, but they are a team that hums along best with Lupul, Kadri and Kessel and of course Phaneuf on defense doing their thing.  They are the “elite” players on this team.  There are other important individuals, of course—including classic grinder role-players like McClement and the currently injured Komarov, who have been a huge part of the identity shift of this squad—but as with most teams, it would be difficult for the Leafs to be at their best without the “big four” strutting their stuff every night.

And some decent goaltending, which they've been getting more often than not this season.

With that as the backdrop, I’ve been trying to think who would be the “best” (i.e. the team they can beat) fit for the Leafs in round one.  But I’ll leave it to you to tell me what you think.  There are a couple of ways to look at this question:  who would you like the Leafs to play in opening round, because you feel that’s the team they have the best chance of defeating?  But beyond that, who would you love to see the Leafs play at some point in the playoffs, from an old-time rivalry perspective?  Boston?  Ottawa?  Montreal?

We all recall that the early 2000s saw some great playoff hockey and some tremendous series’ with the Senators.  That’s why there is a rivalry to this day.  I remember playoff match-ups with Bobby Orr (right) and the Bruins in 1972 and 1974.  Then there is the long history (though not recent, I acknowledge) of classic springtime match-ups with the Habs—notably the four times they met in the ‘60s and both occasions they hooked up in the late 1970s.

Wouldn't series' like that be something?  What would you, personally, like to see?


I remember writing some weeks ago that the Leafs were already playing “playoff hockey” under Carlyle, and that that should stand them in good stead if they did indeed reach the spring dance.  What I meant was simply that the Leafs, despite their giveaways and various flaws, were doing those playoff-type things:  you know, finishing their checks with an edge, keeping games close, matching lines and for the most part keeping the goals against down.

They have taken sideways steps at times since I wrote that, but that has pretty much been their approach.  Keep it close, check, check, and check some more and create offense from a generally good defensive structure.  The guys with flair—most notably the aforementioned Kessel, Kadri and Lupul—lead the offense, but they have gotten contributions from throughout the lineup, including defensemen like Phaneuf and Franson, which doesn't hurt..

My simple point?  I don’t think there will be much of an adjustment for this roster when they hit the playoffs.  They have been trying to play 'Carlyle (read playoff) hockey' since the season started.  They may not get far in the playoffs (they just might, however) but it won't be because they aren’t ready to play the style that wins in the spring.  If anything, given they now have secondary scoring, if they just turn up the ‘urgency’ a tad in the playoffs (everyone naturally does anyway), they may surprise us.

The Jim Morra "playoff" line is not a joke in Leafland anymore.  We'll be there with the big boys.


A quick aside:  I have no doubt we will need him (and other defensemen as well) if we progress in the playoffs, but for now, it was not, seemingly, necessary to free Jake Gardiner.  They’re doing OK without him.  We all know that he will be an impact player on this team sooner than later, but as I said in an earlier column, I have zero problem with Carlyle having him watch for a while upstairs. As I said here a year ago, there are still plenty of things the talented young defenseman needs to be better at- things that matter at playoff time.


  1. The best match up for us in the first round is the Jets. They just don't have the depth or goaltending to really worry me. If we play them I can easily see a second round.

    From a personal perspective I would like to see the Bruins in the first round. While I like some of their players I just generaly loathe the bastards (sorry about the language but it's true). If your going to prove that the season is no fluke you may as well beat the big boys first off. To me right now these guys are the biggest rivals.

    What more can you say about the Kadri line. Fantastic. Because he is one of my favourites I have to mention Kulemin on that line. The third Kadri goal was directly the result of him keeping the puck in and then winning a one on one battle to get the puck to Lupul who of course set up Kadri. Lupul has been something else since he came back simply unreal. I like that line, it's got everything. The sublime skills of Kadri, the grit and determination of Lupul and the defensive accumen of Kulemin. All three of these guys play with skill and heart and "Muckulence". Love it.

    Nice game tonight and it should have cemented a playoff spot. looking forward to it.

  2. You summed it up really well, Willbur. (I agree on the Jets, by the many Leaf fans would there be in that rocking arena in Winnipeg?)

    We both have always appreciated the "muckulence" term that Bobby C. coined here. And it sure fits the Kadri line....thanks Willbur.

    1. I think that might be the greatest term coined about hockey. To me to see Lupul go down to block a shot even though they were up by 3 is just fantastic. Then to see Kulemin outwork 3 Sens to get the puck to Lupul to score the final dagger was awesome. Kadri wasn't as physical as he is some night but he scored 3 goals. This line is all hustle, no quit all the time. I haven't been this excited about a Leaf line in a long, long time.

      I've pointed out before that the Leafs never seem to have the best player or the elite of the elite but I think they do right now in Kadri. He isn't the best player in the game but he is starting to show he just might be in a couple of years. 6th overall in points and 6th in goals at just 22 is pretty damm amazing. I am very impressed with him. I'm glad he is proving me wrong for being ambilivant towards him before this year. Simply amazing.

  3. I'm guessing most Leaf fans would be honest and admit they didn't seer this coming with Kadri. Maybe some day, but not at this stage, in his first full NHL season. As VLM readers know, I wanted, when he finally did get a "real" shot here (not being yo-yo'd up and down), that they just let him play- without blasting him for every mistake. ( I'm still convinced they were offering him in a trade at the deadline last year.)

    Regardless, while we all understand one season does not make a career, we can certainly enjoy the way he is playing now- and seeing what he becomes.

  4. Well, we're not in the playoffs yet. Odds are looking good, of course, and there's no reason to expect a slump after strong performances against Carolina and Ottawa. Still, we'll need a few strong performances more, before the real games begin. Likely, we'll need to go at least 4-8 to make it. Nobody would be happy going into post-season with that record in the last 12. 6-6 would be a bit worrisome. 8-4 would be nice, but it could well land us Boston.

    Let's face it, making the playoffs would be progress, but it would be progress soon forgotten with an early exit. I'd like to steer clear of Bruins and Penguins in the first round, mainly because they're the two teams in the East that actually know what it takes. I don't think sending either one packing would actually be impossible, although it would certainly be a big upset. So I would be happiest opening against the Southeast winner or Ottawa. Southeast, because it has easily been the worst division in the league this year, and if Winnipeg wins it, it would be an added bonus. Not because I think the Jets are that bad. Sure, they're hardly a powerhouse. There's nothing truly threatening about them, but it's kind of heartwarming seeing Winnipeg in the playoff race, and seeing them winning the Southeast would be geographically hilarious.

    Ottawa would be good in my mind, because let's face it, it's close, and Scotiabank Place is not exactly hostile grounds for the Leafs. Even if the Sens enter the post-season as a higher seed, they wouldn't be clear favourites to progress. We don't have much in terms of proven post-season winners on the ice, so facing a prospectively even draw on the first round might do us a world of good. But my picks are highly subjective and speculative.

    As for Kadri... Just wow. I tend to agree nobody would have picked him to do quite this much, even though I, personally, was never ready to give up on him. I well know you have advocated for him to be given a shot at centre, which was never going to happen with Wilson. The kid has exploded in numbers only, and has shown he's got some sandpaper in his pocket as well. Had he been traded to minimize our damages and flourished elsewhere, we all know what the reaction had been. I'm just so very happy for once it didn't go like that. Of course, for all intents and purposes, this is his true rookie season, even if he's no longer eligible for the Calder. His next season might be more difficult. But I'm not too worried for him; he has seen how effective he can be, and he's a young lad, still. I believe he'll run into some adversity, and eventually prevail to become a legitimate, consistent star player.

    Thanks for keeping up the writing, Michael. Let's hope we'll see the Leafs take on the Habs in the post-season. And let's hope it'll be after the opening round!

  5. Winnipeg would certainly be the preferred match-up, CGLN. No disrespect, but they are a team that would struggle to win a playoff round, I would think, given their obvious inconsistencies and leadership issues. Lots of young talent but eminently beat-able, though, like you, I'm thrilled for them to make the playoffs.

    I'm running out of things to say about Kadri's play. I will say this: I don't believe this is a case of we Toronto fans over-extolling how "good" he is. By any measure, he is playing like an elite forward. Anyone can see that. (In fairness, we often don't see other fine young players, especially those in the Western Conference, but this is not a situation where we are doing the Toronto thing and just over-rating the player...)

    The Leafs and Habs would be a nice match-up. And about time....Thanks for visiting, CGLN

    1. Michael, I'll visit as often as I can. Nowadays, it's less often than I'd like, but I'd rather not do it unless I feel like I have something to say. Well, after seeing the Sens game, which was my first one in a while, I felt I had something.

      We have a real gem of a talent in Kadri. He got his first real shot in a season that has been a scramble from the get-go. If he had struggled early on, he'd likely not have been a Leaf much longer. But he made his one chance count. That's the mark of a winner, right there. Kadri wins games. That's more than just scoring in games we win. After Sundin, we haven't had true winners in our lineup. This season, Kadri has easily been our most dangerous skater, game in, game out. And that's a big deal.

      If we make the playoffs, I hope Kadri will make an impact. If he doesn't manage that right off the bat, he shouldn't be considered a failure. There's no shame in not truly knowing what's to come when it's your first time out. But it's the Leafs, so he could get crucified, if he'll be ineffective early on. Hell, it's the Leafs, so he might be damned if he won't be able to absolutely dominate early on, but I'm hoping he'll get a couple of lucky goals and struggle a bit, because that would both show how hard it gets, and allow him to adapt.

      And yes, I'll start planning the parade as soon as we get out of round one. Because that's the point when hope and willpower really start to matter. Long way to go for that, I know. Just thought I'd give you a heads-up.

  6. This is an odd question to answer, in the sense that typically I'd love to have an attitude of "bring em on" and a feeling that the Leafs can run with the best teams in the league. As we've discussed the past couple months, the Leafs are looking like a playoff team but they are not yet serious contenders. So in considering that, I would really like to see them not just make the playoffs, but win a round (or two) to taste some success and obtain some much-needed playoff experience moving forward.

    To that end, let's stay away from Boston in the first round. The Leafs proved last weekend that they are inching ever closer, but I still do not see them handling Boston for an entire playoff series. Call me crazy, but I think they have a better chance against Pittsburgh. I had mentioned a few days ago that Carolina is one of those funny teams that isn't really better than the Leafs, but they always seem to have their number. I feel the opposite about the Penguins. Certainly a better team than the Leafs, but the Leafs have been able to contain them when they have focused on Malkin and shut him down (much as they used to do when they would hammer away at Jagr). A series against the Canadiens would be classic for many reasons, and would be an even-up match.

    In terms of actually putting bets on that they will win a series, I still have to put them against Winnipeg or Ottawa. I think the Leafs are a team built to beat down teams like those over a playoff series. Props to Ottawa for their success with an AHL roster this year (last night notwithstanding), but I do believe the Leafs would look like the rugged seasoned playoff team over them any day.

  7. I don't think you're off base when it comes to the Penguins, Pete. Of course facing Crosby every night would be a challenge, but the Pens can give up a lot of goals at times. Not that we want to have 6-5 games in the playoffs, but I sense the Leafs could play with Pittsburgh.

    Ottawa plays smart most nights and with heart, though they gave the Leafs a ton of room last night. (Just one game, of course...). I'm not a predictions guy, but the Leafs would surely be a good bet against either the Jets or the Senators. Thanks Pete, good stuff.

  8. Thanks CGLN. (On your Kadri playoff reference, I remember Bryan Trottier in his first couple of playoffs with the Islanders. He was not as "good" as he had been in the regular season and caught a lot of flak. He went on, of course, to win six Cups!)

  9. Well I've got 2 cents to offer here, for sure.

    Like most of the folk above I'd agree that the Jets first up would be a preference but I'd be surprised if they maintained their lead over Carolina. But after that? I'd give us a good shot against Ottawa or Montreal, less so but with some hope against a Crosby-less Pittsburgh. Boston and I become far less hopeful.

    At the risk of some science-free prognostication though, I'd be inclined to say that the playoff seeding in the East will end up looking like (in order): Pittsburgh, Boston, Carolina, Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa, New Jersey, NYR.

    No way would I put money on Pittsburgh v NYR if there's no Crosby: NYR to me stink of last year's Kings in the West and I don't rate Fleury in the post-season. Boston v Jersey could be epic but only if Kovalchuk is fit. I think we could take Montreal partly because I've struggled all year to believe they are as good as their results and partly because, well, screw the Habs. Carolina v Ottawa should go to the Sens: they're soft but Carolina doesn't have a fit NHL goalie.

    That would mean the second round seeding would be Boston (2), Toronto (5), Ottawa (6), NYR (8). And by all the Gods of hockey, in the second round, after all these year and with the city of Toronto fulminating with hope and resurgent bravado, we will take Ottawa apart in the playoffs barring major injury or the return and beatification of Craig Anderson. Boston's too good for NYR over a 7-game series, leaving a conference final between us and the Bruins. Which could be all she wrote, alas.

    There you go, on the record. Let's see how little I know. Damn it's going to be fun to watch though.

  10. I enjoyed following your 'train of thought', KiwiLeaf. Sounds as though we eventually take on and lose to (in your projection) the Bruins.

    I guess the fun thing is once you get to the playoffs, just about anything might happen. A hot goalie, whatever, and you're on a roll or out on your ear!

  11. First of all I'd just like to state that I'm worried about us going on about playoffs when there's 12 more games to play and we need to win 5 of those to even get there. I really hope we don't jynx it.

    I'm really surprised that everyone here seems to want Winnipeg in the first round because they are the one team that actually scares me the most. Why? Because they are a big physical team that can actually out-hit us and because they won the season-series against us (winning 2 out of 3 - the game we won Byfuglin didn't play) and because they have Andrew Ladd (with two cup rings) and Dustin Byfuglin who is a monster that, in my opinion, won the Hawks a Cup in 2010 by outmuscleing Chris Pronger. Their arena is the loudest and most hostile place in the NHL and they haven't seen success in forever which means they will be even more excited than they usually are. As I said, the last place I want the Leafs to be going in the playoffs is Winnipeg. I hope they don't make it or get taken out by someone else..

    I want the Penguins, Ottawa, and Montreal (in that order) not because we match up against them well (which we actually do) but because I really want a chance to watch the Leafs beat the Pittsburg stars and the Ontario and Montreal rivals on the way to the Cup - against Ottawa we`ll be playing all games on home ice and that will be really humiliating for Sens (which is awesome) and against Montreal we can watch a real Canadian rivalry between the two great Canadian franchises.

    I`d love to meet Edmonton Oilers in the finals. I wonder if they (or even we) will make the playoffs this year and if so I really don`t see them (or us) going all the way just yet but I have had this dream ever since Burke came to town and Edmonton drafted Eberle and Hall. It seems more realistic to expect this to happen next year or the year after but I`d really like to see it and I still hope it happens. Wouldn`t that be something?

  12. All fair points about the Jets, leafdreamer. You know what I think is the case, though, is that Leaf fans see the team's inconsistency (hard to get past the fact that these were the Atlanta Thrashers!) and hot and cold goaltending and wonder if they can really put it together to win a playoff series. The Jets have some really nice young players, but not sure they have the leadership to make thing s happen in the spring. We'll see, I guess.

    The great thing is, regardless of the matchup, there should be, as you mention, a great atmosphere, whether it's Boston, Montreal, Ottawa or whomever. Thanks leafdreamer.