NHL: Maple Leafs clinch last playoff spot

Posted April 20, 2017

Needing a win to clinch a playoff spot, the Toronto Maple Leafs prevailed in perhaps one of the craziest and dramatic games of this National Hockey League season.

The Toronto Maple Leafs completed the Stanley Cup Playoffs field by clinching the 16th and last berth with a 5-3 win against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins at Air Canada Centre on Saturday. The Pens roll into Toronto to face a Maple Leafs team that's lost two chances at clinching a playoff spot this week.

Toronto, as one might expect in those circumstances, owned the action in the early-going - shot attempts favouring the Leafs 23-7 after the first. "What I have learned over time and I have been in the playoffs many times is you just be careful what you wish for". It makes no difference in their life, but we've got to come out and play right and get prepared and play as hard as we possibly can. Boston rookie defenseman Brandon Carlo's status is uncertain after he was injured on a hit by Alex Ovechkin on Saturday. Another handful, including Gardiner, Nazem Kadri, and Tyler Bozak, have just a single playoff series under their belts, that one coming during the Leafs last playoff appearance in 2013. Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said, "we're at the point where we can't give up any points".

(AP Photo/Winslow Townson). Boston Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy talks to his players during the third period of their 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals in an NHL hockey game in Boston, Saturday, April 8, 2017. "I think coaches are allowing them to play and I think you get a better brand of hockey". A loss in regulation means the Leafs would face the Washington Capitals, the Stanley Cup favourite as the President's Trophy victor.

"I imagine back to backs are on a year-by-year rotation so if you have the most one year, the next year you get the least", Babcock said, tongue in cheek.

You knew it wasn't going to be easy, right?

"They were playing for a playoff spot and they played like it", Fleury said. Joonas Korpisalo stopped 30 shots for the Jackets, who are set for a first-round matchup against Pittsburgh. "And they've all had these opportunities at different levels, just not at this level so let's look after business". They'll face either the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals or the rival Ottawa Senators in the first round.

A lot of things had to go the Leafs' way.

If Toronto had gotten the game to overtime, the Boston Bruins would be facing the top-seeded Capitals in the first round. That's when it's a totally different program. We're not that far behind however as we sit fifth with a power play percentage of 22.9%. "We've got two years left before that happens".

"No space. Zero. Battle for every inch of ice, from the opening faceoff to the end", said Babcock, who's coached 144 playoff games in the National Hockey League.

The Maple Leafs struck back 29 seconds later when van Riemsdyk potted his 27th goal of the season from the high slot. He's gone 45-28-5 with a 2.37 GAA, .917 save percentage and eight shutouts in 78 AHL games over his first two seasons.

Then Connor Brown notched his 20th goal of the season from the left circle, redirecting a shot by Gardiner, at 17:12 to put the Maple Leafs into the lead. Calvert got the first with a weak backhand between McElhinney's pads, Anderson followed up off the rush, Atkinson notching the go-ahead marker shorthanded. We have to capitalize on this intense battle and try to take a hold of the game from the very beginning. Auston Matthews is tied for third in the league's goal scoring race with 39 on the season-impressive.

- Also Wednesday, the Penguins host the Blue Jackets, Wild host the Blues and Oilers host the Sharks.

Maple Leafs: Prepare for Washington in Round 1.