Only four skirmishes on a Hump Day hockey card, but each of them has playoff implications, including the two we have our eyes on for you.
Toronto (45-25-6, 45-31 SU) at Philadelphia (36-32-8, 36-40 SU)
Toronto and Philadelphia appear to be long shots to get where they want to go with just a half dozen games remaining. The Maple Leafs trail Boston by five points and would really like to reclaim second place in the Atlantic to have home ice advantage when they meet in a couple of weeks. The Flyers are eight points behind Montreal for the final Wild Card spot and would need a miracle at this point.
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For each team, their frustration is self-induced. Toronto arrives in the City of Brotherly Love having dumped six of 10 games and Philly’s been on the wrong side of the scoreboard in five of their last seven outings.
The NHL odds have Toronto as -145 money line favorites and the simple truth for coach Mike Babcock is he needs his team to start playing well beginning tonight. From his perspective, putting together a five-game winning streak and resting players in Game 82 would be the ideal way to head into the postseason. In particular, that would mean the defense playing hard period by period and not having a letdown like on Monday when after building a 6-2 lead in the third period against Florida, they let up, allowed three goals and won 7-5. Two points yes, feel-good victory, no.
For Philadelphia, it’s real now. Playing well for two months as they did starting in mid-January, it’s not enough to be a playoff team. You have to go out and earn it nightly and ranking in the 20’s in important categories like goals allowed, power play and penalty killing, well, in this case, the numbers do not lie.