While all signs point to the Toronto Maple Leafs securing their first playoff spot in eight seasons, truth be told, their post-season hopes are still precarious.
Back-to-back wins over the New York Rangers at the Air Canada Centre on Monday and in Manhattan on Wednesday will give the Leafs some breathing room.
But if they lose both games to the Rangers, things will get very interesting over the final eight games.
The Leafs are in fifth place in the East but just four points ahead of both the Rangers and the New York Islanders, who share the final two playoff spots. And New Jersey and Winnipeg are just six points back of the Leafs in ninth (either Winnipeg or Washington will get in by winning the Southeast).
The Leafs head into this crucial two-game tilt without sniper Joffrey Lupul for at least Monday’s game although he skated with the the team Monday morning for 10 minutes before leaving.
Lupul didn’t play Saturday after leaving last Thursday’s game against Philadelphia early in the first when he suffered a suspected neck injury after being crunched between former Leaf Jay Rosehill and Adam Hall. Since missing 25 games with a broken forearm, Lupul has scored eight goals and added six assists in seven games.
Newly-acquired defenceman Ryan O’Byrne has yet to play since being acquired on trade deadline day from Colorado but coach Randy Carlyle could insert him into the lineup against New York.
Putting O’Byrne in the lineup is just one of many decisions that Carlyle needs to make.
Goalie James Reimer is expected to start as Leafs seek their fifth win in six games although he didn’t participate in the game-day skate.