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Maple Leafs Watch: Toronto will need miracle to make post-season

There’s a shoe-selling slogan currently airing on TV that theorizes, “impossible is nothing.”

The Toronto Maple Leafs would love to confirm that theory as they attempt to rebound from an abominable start to the season and make the playoffs for the first time since 2004.

Trouble is, it’s almost a certainty they won’t be able to do so.

Granted, Brian Burke’s Blue and White bunch has been bolstered by improved play in recent weeks. Much to the chagrin of Boston Bruins fans, no longer do the Leafs appear destined for 30th place in the league’s final standings; heck, they may even leapfrog four or five franchises and ascend to the fringes of the post-season picture before spring rolls around.

Unfortunately, in beginning the year so poorly, the Leafs not only have placed a huge burden on their collective shoulders, they also now need just about every other Eastern Conference team to help them out, if they wish to sneak into the playoffs.

Thanks to the NHL’s harebrained points system that awards a point to any team that makes it past three periods of regulation hockey before losing a game, the task of overtaking opponents ahead of you in the standings is monumental to say the least.

Therefore, Toronto must (a) emerge victorious over as many Eastern teams – and in regulation time – as possible; and (b) hope the grand majority of games played by Eastern opponents end after 60 minutes of play.

Statistics from the early portion of this season indicate the latter simply isn’t going to happen: as chronicled in November by THN senior writer Ken Campbell, the NHL was on course this year to have a total of 331 games that extended into overtime. That’s 49 more overtime games than the previous mark of 282 that was set last season.

If you’re a Leafs fan, that’s not good.

Nobody is insinuating Ron Wilson and his charges can’t pull off a miracle. But make no mistake – a miracle is precisely what it will take for the Leafs to be playing meaningful hockey in May and June.

Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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