The beauty of sports. That’s the image – in the literal sense, anyway. But that’s not what I’m talking about. To me, the true beauty of the game of hockey is its unpredictability. We think we know what will happen. Will can pore through stats until we are blue in the face – or until we think they actually have some meaning other than being ink on paper or text on a screen – whichever comes first. But the true beauty of hockey, or any game, is that no one really knows what will happen. And the Leafs are proving that almost every game.
Obviously, the most surprising element that burst from its cocoon on Tuesday night v. Buffalo was Nazem Kadri’s offensively creative explosion. Who saw that coming? Not me. Charging to the net, after stripping the puck from Shaone Morrisonn in the corner to the right of Miller, was something an offensive-minded player like Kadri could be reasonably expected to do. On that play, Darryl Boyce picked up the leftovers and gave the Leafs a brief 2-0 lead.
But, later in the game, when Kadri found himself leading a rush into the Sabres’ zone, the play had "Shoot the Puck!" written all over it. But Kadri had the presence to realize the better play (and it’s not always the better play) was to find the trailer and slide the puck to MacArthur – who did a masterful job getting the it from backhand to forehand and past Miller. If this is the Nazem Kadri that Leafs’ fans can expect to see the rest of this season, I’m all for it.
So, with that win over Buffalo leaving Toronto five back of the Sabres, with five to play, it begs me to ask the question, "Can the Leafs win out? They can. It’s in Boston on Thursday, in Ottawa on Saturday, Washington here on Tuesday, in New Jersey the next night, then the wrap-game on Saturday, the 9th, v. Montreal.
Ottawa and New Jersey have nothing to play for. Those wins are in the book. By then, Washington will have nothing to play for either. They will finish second in the East. Their biggest decision is who will start Game One of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. So the two flies in the ointment for the Leafs are Thursday night at the Bruins and the final game of the season.
If Toronto beats Boston, the playoff scenario could very well come down to that final game of the season. Of course, this is all predicated on the fact that Buffalo and Carolina hit the skids. IF the Leafs win out (large IF), the Sabres would have to go 2-3-1 (or worse) for Toronto to get in. Not impossible by any stretch. If the Leafs tied the Sabres with the eighth spot, with each having 90 points, the Leafs would get in based on regulation wins (36 to 35).
Of Buffalo’s six remaining, three are at home. They host the Rangers (fighting for their seed), the Flyers (nothing to play for) and the Lightning (also fighting for their East seed). On the road, Buffalo gets Washington (this Saturday, so Caps still wanting to win), Carolina (this is a no-win proposition for Leafs) and Columbus (a gimme in the regular-season finale).
But the Leafs can’t worry about any of that garbage. It’s just win, baby! Ah, the true beauty of sports.