Maple Leaf and Black Hawk Talk

It’s crunch time for Maple Leafs

Get prepared for the final 10 weeks of the NHL season where the math will be computed daily, if not more frequently.

As it stands today, the Maple Leafs are on the outside of the Eastern Conference playoff picture — but at ninth, only just — with their post all-star break action due to resume Tuesday in Pittsburgh.

So far, the season has been mostly mission accomplished for the Leafs, who have 55 points and are in decent position to challenge for a long-awaited playoff excursion. The popular math suggests the Leafs will need between 37 and 40 points over their remaining 33 games and that projection will be influenced somewhat based on the performance of others in the tight East.

Four teams, including the Leafs, currently have 55 points which is the cutoff point for eighth. The Florida Panthers and New Jersey Devils are also parked at that number but have a game in hand on Toronto as does Washington, which holds down the third seed because of its tenuous hold on first in the Southeast Division.

The difference between seventh and 15th in the East is only 10 points, leaving the door open for a couple of teams that have struggled early to make a run. Back-to-back Leafs wins over the Islanders before the break positioned them nicely for the run, opening up a five-point cushion on the Jets and joining the rest of the group at 55 points.

With the overall tightness in the Eastern Conference, there could be more horses in the race by early April, but here’s a quick handicap at what we see as the principle players.

Blackhawks know they must tighten up on defense

Henrik Sedin isn’t particularly worried about the defensive challenge Dave Bolland presents when the Blackhawks and Canucks renew acquaintances Tuesday night in Vancouver to kick off the stretch run of the season.

“Bolland? They have (Duncan) Keith and (Brent) Seabrook,” Sedin said. “They’re the ones we have to deal with. They’re the ones who are making it tough to play against them.”

Bolland has been a pest to Sedin and his brother Daniel both on and off the ice the last couple of seasons, including when the Hawks center amped up the rivalry in December with disparaging comments about the Swedish twins by saying on a Chicago radio station that “they’ll never become Hawks. I don’t think we’d let them on our team,” and adding the Sedins “might sleep in bunk beds.”

Bolland’s statements drew harsh criticism from Canucks coach Alain Vigneault at the time, but Henrik Sedin said during All-Star Game festivities over the weekend that “we’re past that. We’ve never said anything about (Bolland). I’ve got a lot of respect for their top guys. I’m sure they’ve dealt with him and what he said.”–20120130,0,955200.story

Tim Sassone Tweet

Remember, trade deadline a month away. Bowman is not done. Far from it IMO. Another d-man for sure. Maybe 2, or another FW. #blackhawks!/TimSassone/status/163108364128223233