A franchise record for points is what remains for the Maple Leafs to accomplish in the final three games of the 2017-18 regular season.
And if the Leafs are going to set a mark with 104 points — they’re at 101, two back of the team record of 103, heading into their home game against the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night — coach Mike Babcock’s wish might be that they do so honestly.
“These games are important for us because the reality is, we’re probably not starting (the playoffs) until Thursday (April 12),” said Babcock, who gave his players Easter Sunday off. “There’s lots of time to hang around. We’ve got lots of (down time coming), so let’s keep playing hard.”
No matter whether the Leafs will be visiting the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round, Game 1 will not be on April 11, the night the 2018 Stanley Cup playoffs start. The Boston Celtics have a home game that night at TD Garden while down at Amalie Arena in Tampa, the venue is booked for a Lorde concert.
In the Sabres, the Leafs face a club that took advantage of a major penalty to Scott Hartnell of the Nashville Predators on Saturday night, scoring three goals on the way to beating the top team in the National Hockey League 7-4. The seven goals were the most the Sabres have scored in any game this season.
Though the Sabres appear destined to finish last overall, expect the Leafs to be met with the kind of resistance on Monday befitting a playoff-bound team. If the Sabres — who don’t take games off against Toronto — beat the Leafs, they will have recorded their third win in four games between the teams in the past four weeks.
In other words, the Sabres on paper are not good, but they’re the kind of feisty opponent Babcock wants his Leafs to play in one of their final tuneups for the post-season.
The Leafs will visit the New Jersey Devils — who seemingly will sew up the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference —on Thursday and finish the regular season on Saturday at home against the Montreal Canadiens.
One decision for Babcock will be how much rest, if any, his top players get. While it has been decided that goalie Frederik Andersen will not play on Monday but will get the last two starts, Babcock was not yet sure what he was going to do with “the rest of the crew,” as he put it, on Saturday night.
Other than avoiding the risk of injury, there’s no benefit to giving any of his star players a game off. They’re going to have five days between the regular-season finale and the playoff opener, which would be more than enough of a break.
So much for the idea that Auston Matthews would require an adjustment period to find a rhythm after missing 10 games with a shoulder injury. With at least one point in all six games since returning, Matthews is riding his longest point streak of the season, and has been at less than 55% possession in just one of those games. Against Winnipeg on Saturday night, Matthews’ Corsi was 61.9%, doing especially well when he was up against Jacob Trouba, Josh Morrissey, Patrik Laine and Paul Stastny … As much as Matthews has been producing, so too has his pal Jack Eichel with the Sabres. Eichel has eight points in his past three games, including two goals last Monday against the Leafs. Eichel’s five assists versus Nashville on Saturday tied a franchise record, and it was the first time since Thomas Vanek did it in 2013 against Boston that a Sabre had five points in one game … A couple of tidbits from Jets captain Blake Wheeler after his team’s 3-1 win, regarding the Leafs: “They are a group that wants time, wants space, wants to be creative, and with the way our guys move (on the back end), if they take that away, it’s tough (for the Leafs).” As far as the Jets getting two goals from defencemen, Wheeler said: “(The Leafs) collapse well. In the D-zone, they take away the wall pretty well. If you can get the puck back to the point, (your defencemen) are going to have a little time and space.” … The Sabres announced on Sunday that defenceman Victor Antipin, who was hit from behind by Hartnell leading to the aforementioned major, suffered a concussion, broken nose, facial lacerations and dental injuries. There’s no question Hartnell should have been suspended, but wasn’t.
FROM THE HASH MARKS
Patrick Marleau continues to move up the NHL career list in goals and points. Marleau’s goal against the Jets was the 534th of his career, moving him past Frank Mahovlich for possession of 33rd in league history. Next in Marleau’s sights is Keith Tkachuk, whose 538 goals have him in 32nd. And the goal put Marleau in possession of 56th on the NHL points list with 1,127, breaking a tie with Mike Bossy and Joe Nieuwendyk. In 55th with 1,130 points is Bernie Federko … The Toronto Marlies’ American Hockey League record of 29 road wins, set with a victory over the Manitoba Moose on Saturday, is more impressive in that all were in regulation. The Marlies have lost just six road games along the way, five in regulation and one in a shootout. Of the Marlies’ six remaining games, three are on the road.
Source:: Toronto Sun – Movies