The Toronto Maple Leafs clinched a berth in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Saturday when they defeated the Montreal Canadiens 3-2.
The Maple Leafs (47-19-6) have taken advantage of historic seasons from center Auston Matthews and forward Mitchell Marner, helping them to the second-most goals scored in the NHL at 275 and second place in the Atlantic Division. Toronto has reached the 100-point mark for the sixth time in its history and are five points shy of matching its record of 105 points in 2017-18.
The Maple Leafs have not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2004 and have lost seven consecutive postseason games when they had an opportunity to eliminate their opponent.
Matthews, a likely finalist in the voting for the Hart Trophy as NHL most valuable player, has set NHL career highs in goals (58), assists (41) and points (99) in 67 games to lead Toronto. Marner has scored 90 points (31 goals, 59 assists) in 63 games. His goal total surpasses his previous NHL high of 26 in 82 games in 2018-19, and he is four points from matching his NHL career high of 94 in the same season.
The linemates could become the first teammates to reach 100 points in the same season in Maple Leafs history. Toronto had not had a player reach 100 points in a season since Doug Gilmour scored 111 points (27 goals, 84 assists) in 1993-94.
The Maple Leafs added depth when they acquired defenseman Ilya Lyubushkin in a trade with the Arizona Coyotes on Feb. 19 and defenseman Mark Giordano and forward Colin Blackwell in a trade with the Seattle Kraken on March 20.
Toronto is missing three regular players to injury, which could play a factor.
Defenseman Rasmus Sandin, who has scored 16 points (five goals, 11 assists) and is plus-9 in 51 games, has been out since March 19 with a knee injury, and forward Ondrej Kase, who has scored 27 points (14 goals, 13 assists) in 50 games and has been effective on special teams, has been out since March 19 with a head injury. There is no timeline for a return for either player. Goalie Petr Mrazek sustained a groin injury on March 29 and was expected to miss at least six weeks.
Here’s a look at the Maple Leafs’ path to a playoff berth:
Most Valuable Player: Matthews eclipsed Rick Vaive’s record for most goals in a single season in Toronto history. Vaive had held the record of 54, set in 1981-82, until Matthews scored his 55th goal in a 4-3 overtime win at the Dallas Stars on Thursday. The 24-year-old won the Rocket Richard Trophy last season as the NHL’s top goal-scorer with 41, could become the third player to score 60 goals since 2005-06, joining Washington Capitals forward Alex Ovechkin (65 in 2007-08) and Tampa Bay Lightning forward Steven Stamkos (60 in 2011-12).
Unsung Hero: Forward Michael Bunting has seamlessly filled the void on a line with Matthews and Marner left by Zach Hyman, who signed a seven-year contract with the Edmonton Oilers on July 28, 2021. Bunting has scored 57 points (20 goals, 37 assists) and is plus-26 in 72 games, leading all rookies in scoring.
Memorable Moment: Matthews scored his 50th goal of the season in a 7-3 win against the Winnipeg Jets at Scotiabank Arena on March 31. He became the first Maple Leafs player to score 50 goals in a season since Dave Andreychuk scored 53 in 1993-94. The goal came at 17:54 of the third period into an empty net.
Matthews said scoring that milestone goal was special; with Toronto set to embark on a four-game road trip, chants of “We Want 50” poured down from the crowd throughout the game. The fans prolonged the ovation, throwing hats and T-shirts onto the ice.
“That’s a smart crowd making the moment last a little longer than a few seconds,” Giordano said. “It was cool to be a part of (that).”
Key Number: 29.4. That’s the Maple Leafs’ power play percentage, best in the NHL.
Question Mark: Goaltending depth. Jack Campbell has set an NHL career high in wins with 27, 10 more than his previous career high from last season. But he allowed at least four goals in six of eight starts prior to missing 10 games with a rib injury. With Mrazek unavailable, Toronto is left with 25-year old rookie Erik Kallgren as the next option behind Campbell heading into the playoffs.
Reason Maple Leafs Can Win It All: With Matthews and Marner, the Maple Leafs have two of the most dynamic offensive players in the NHL. Matthews has scored 51 goals in his past 50 games and Marner has scored 67 points (24 goals, 43 assists) in his past 36 games, though each faces pressure to improve on his recent playoff performances.
Marner has not scored in his past 18 playoff games and Matthews was held to one goal in seven games against the Montreal Canadiens last season and has three in his past 12 playoff games over the past two seasons.