The dream is finally over for the Toronto Maple Leafs. One of the proudest franchises in the NHL continues their struggles in the modern era, as Toronto will not host a playoff game for the eighth straight season -- zero postseason appearances since the NHL salary cap was put into place.
There was hope in in Ontario, as the Leafs went 9-5-1 in March and placed themselves on the fringes of competition. Yet even before their 3-2 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals last night, they were officially eliminated from postseason contention because of Thomas Vanek. The Buffalo Sabres forward put a dagger through Toronto's collective heart with a hat trick in Buffalo's 4-2 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning. With that victory, there was simply no way for Toronto to earn enough points in their last three games to overcome the deficit.
Out west, the race for the last two seeds has turned into a photo finish. The Anaheim Ducks and Chicago Blackhawks have the advantage with 93 points apiece, tied for seventh. But the Calgary Flames and Dallas Stars are certainly making the race competitive. Both of those teams are lurking behind at 91 points, and may take over a playoff spot if Chicago or Anaheim slip up in their last two games. The Dallas Stars can actually finish the regular season tied with Chicago, even if both teams win their remaining games, as Dallas still has three games left on their schedule. With back to back games against the Colorado Avalanche, and a finale versus the Minnesota Wild, the Stars may hold the advantage.
If Dallas were to make the playoffs, it would be the first time that every member from a single division made the playoffs, provided the Anaheim Ducks can clinch a berth.
Games To Watch Tonight:
Phoenix Coyotes at Los Angeles Kings: This is a potential first round playoff matchup in the Western Conference. These two teams are built very similar, with stellar goaltending and scoring depth with no real top forward left on either roster. With the injury to Anze Kopitar, the Kings are lacking a true top forward. Deadline acquisition Dustin Penner has done very little in a purple and silver sweater. The Coyotes have depended on veterans Shane Doan and Radim Vrbata to provide the scoring. Expect a goalie battle here, with the Coyotes' superior depth giving them an advantage.
San Jose Sharks at Anaheim Ducks: The Sharks have been rolling into the playoffs, and have their sights set on the #2 overall seed in the West. The Ducks are tied for seventh and need to win the remainder of their games to ensure a playoff berth. This is a battle of top offensive lines, as the Sharks' Marleau, Pavelski, and Joe Thornton match up against the Ducks' MVP candidate Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Teemu Selanne. There should be tons of action in this game, with the Ducks being the more desperate team.
Detroit Red Wings at Carolina Hurricanes: The Red Wings are battling the Sharks for a potential home-ice advantage in the second round. The Canes slim playoff hopes can stay alive with a win tonight. Goalie Cam Ward has been sparkling in net for Carolina, with a 7-2-1 record and a .933 SV% their past ten games. They'll need another quality start from him tonight to keep their postseason hopes alive. The Canes need to win their last three games and hope that the Rangers lose at least one of their remaining two contests.