So close you can almost taste it

Joffrey Lupul

What an impressive showing by Joffrey Lupul last night. Re-united with 2011-12 running mates Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel after an in-game audible by coach Carlyle, he led the Leafs to a not-always-convincing 3-2 win over the lowly Florida Panthers with goals five and six in his last four games.

I see in Joffrey Lupul a player who has come back with a point to prove after signing his big contract and falling to injury shortly thereafter; a player who has taken on a leadership role up front, where the Leafs could use a leader as the team heads toward a possible playoff berth. He’s not only been burying just about every one of his chances with conviction, he has an extra jump in his step and is making a shift-by-shift impact with his physical intensity. He seems to be relishing the chance to jump back into the lineup and help lead this team to the playoffs, and he’s given the team the boost it needed to keep trucking toward the post-season.

We’re at the 34-game point and I think the Leafs’ identity is now clear. This isn’t exactly the pithiest way to describe it, but the Leafs are a young, hard-working group that is competitive in most games, plays physical (1st in hitting, shot blocking and for what it’s worth, fighting), has good goaltending, strong scoring depth throughout their top 9, and a good penalty kill, but lacks a consistent cycle game and is short on top 4 D. I think that’s pretty much proven true from game one until now – the 34-game point. And as controversial as it may sound to some, I think they’re well coached, typically well prepared – if not, they can usually adjust – and have done well so far to avoid the high and low extremes that could easily malign a relatively inexperienced group of professional athletes.

A steadying 3-0-2 stretch after their concerning 1-3-3 speed wobble has put the Leafs in pretty good stead with 14 to go. They’d have to play their way out of it with a nosedive, as it looks like the Leafs only need to post a 6-7-1 record to ensure a playoff berth this season (6-8 might do it; the projected cut off is 52-53 points). Over their remaining 14 games, the Leafs play only four games (against two teams) currently above them in the standings – the Senators twice and the Canadiens twice. The Leafs are 2-1 against both rivals. Perhaps the primary remaining obstacle is to not cripple beneath the pressure associated with being the first Leaf team in years to be this close to the end of the season while residing in a playoff spot.

Wednesday Morning Victory Links…

Nikhil Daljeet’s excellent Game in 10 from last night and a selection of videos to catch up on or relive last night’s win.

Recaps from Cam Charron and Michael Langlois.

Maple Leafs’ Ben Scrivens unfazed by Kiprusoff trade talk. Why should he be? Ain’t happenin’ and shouldn’t be happenin’.

Should the Maple Leafs hold onto sixth place at all costs? If only it was so simple. As usual the Southeast Division leader would be a marginal playoff team if you take out the divisional rule.

There’s a couple of decent players on the waiver wire, set to clear today at noon.

A fresh copy of today’s up-to-date NHL Standings. Chillin’ in the sweet spot. How sweet would it be, though, to take down both remaining games vs. the Senators and square off in a 4 v 5 matchup with the Montreal Canadiens, the first Habs-Leafs series since 78-79? What’s that, I’m getting ahead of myself?

Sportsclub stats puts the Leafs’ playoff odds at 94% after last night’s win.

Gif of the Day:

The rest of the Leafs didn’t get a sniff until after the 1st period last night.