Lightning vs Leafs Playoff Series All but Locked

Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Nick Turchiaro-USA TODAY Sports /

The Tampa Bay Lightning have 34 regular season games remaining this season and we pretty much already know who their first round opponent will be in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. We might’ve known weeks ago, but it’s just about guaranteed that they will be taking on the Toronto Maple Leafs in a rematch of last year’s epic seven game first round.

As we sit at the break, the Toronto Maple Leafs sit 11 points back of the Boston Bruins for the Atlantic Division lead. Despite the Bruins losing three in a row, it is unlikely that anybody will be catching them, leaving Toronto and Tampa Bay to fight for second and third.

The next closest teams to the Lightning in the division are the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers who sit nine and 11 points back of Tampa Bay respectively. Both teams have been trending upwards of late, but their most likely paths to the playoffs will be landing one of the two Wild Card spots.

With so much space between the teams above and below the Lightning and Leafs, their playoff collision course seems even more certain than it may have been weeks ago.

Since both sides pretty much know who they will be taking on in round one, both will surely keep this in mind as we head into March 3rd’s trade deadline. Toronto, more so than Tampa Bay, will probably base some of their moves based on what it will take to take down the Lightning because of the pressure they have to get out of the first round.

The Lightning have proven time and time again that they do not care who they have to play in the playoffs. They will play anybody, any time and anywhere. They took down the Leafs in Toronto in game seven last season and surely having to do that again would not be something that would worry them in the way it might worry the Leafs.

The only thing left to be decided will be who will have home ice. Again, the Lightning probably do not care about home ice but would certainly take it if the opportunity is there because home ice is really just about having game seven at home.

Whether you like today’s NHL playoff format or not, it does create more opportunity for rivalries and re-matches and this will be one to salivate over for the next couple of months. This series will have more high-end talent and storylines bigger than any other series can offer.

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