Breaking Down Toronto Maple Leafs' First-Round Playoff Scenarios

Jon Reid@@JonReidCSMCorrespondent IIApril 18, 2013

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 16:  Mikhail Grabovski #84 of the Toronto Maple Leafs celebrates with teammates after scoring in the third period against the Washington Capitals at the Verizon Center on April 16, 2013 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Greg Fiume/Getty Images)
Greg Fiume/Getty Images

Although a playoff spot isn't yet a guarantee for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it would require some sort of epic collapse for the Buds to miss out on the postseason in 2013.

The way the team has played of late, however, does leave some doubts as to whether the Leafs will be able to hold onto the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference table for the remainder of the 2013 season.

Underwhelming performances against the New Jersey Devils and the Washington Capitals didn't exactly help the Leafs in their quest for a higher seed in the East.

Considering the fact that the Eastern Conference standings are so tight, it's still possible that the Leafs could wind up anywhere from fourth place right down to seventh or eighth and find themselves playing a wide variety of teams in the first round of the postseason.

Let's take a look at each of Toronto's potential first-round opponents in 2013.

Boston Bruins

Being in a neck-and-neck race for the second seed in the East with the Montreal Canadiens, the Boston Bruins are certainly a team that Toronto could find themselves matched up against in a few weeks. Whether Toronto maintains the fifth seed, falls to seventh in the conference or makes a run for fourth, chances are they will either play the Bruins or the Habs.

While this season against Boston has been a whole lot more successful than the 2011-12 campaign proved to be for the Leafs, a first-round playoff series against Boston should still concern Leafs Nation.

As one of the few teams that can match up physically with Toronto, the B's won't be intimidated by the size of the blue and white.

As a solid puck possession team, the Bruins have the potential to give the Leafs nightmares and keep them hemmed in their own zone for much of the series as well.

Leafs fans can, however, take solace in the fact that the Bruins haven't been as dominant lately as they were early on, posting a record of just 9-8-2 in their last 19 contests.

Furthermore, Toronto has played the Bruins well in their last two meetings, going 1-0-1 and claiming three of four points in a home-and-home series just under a month ago.

What's more, the Leafs were without a suspended Joffrey Lupul, one of their most prominent offensive weapons this season, for one of those two games.

When all is said and done, if the Leafs want to come out on top in a potential series against the Bruins, they'll have to dial down the turnovers and put on more offensive pressure than they have in previous tilts with Boston this season.

Prediction: Bruins win in six

Montreal Canadiens

The other team that the Leafs are most likely to run into is the Montreal Canadiens.

Unlike the Bruins, the Leafs have been incredible this season against their bitter rivals, taking three of four head-to-head games this season, including a 6-0 pummeling and 5-1 beatdown (the Habs won their game 5-2, though they needed an empty net to notch their fifth score).

With Toronto's size and ability to kill penalties, Montreal would be the ideal matchup for the Leafs in the first round of the postseason.

Throw in their recent defensive struggles (the Habs have let in at least five goals in each of their last three contests) and you've got a team that's struggling down the stretch, who the Leafs match up well against.

Of all the likely opponents the Leafs could draw in round one, the Habs are by far the best option.

Not to mention, who wouldn't want to see a Leafs-Habs playoff series for the first time in 34 years?

Prediction: Leafs win in six

Washington Capitals

This is another series that could pose some major problems for the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Should the Leafs find themselves in sixth place when the regular season wraps up, they'll have the daunting task of trying to take down the red-hot Washington Capitals without home-ice advantage.

Now that the Capitals have found their stride (and boy, have they ever), no one should be glad about having to play the Caps in the first round.

Despite the Leafs having taken the season series from the Capitals, 2-1, both of those games came early in the season when Washington just couldn't figure out a way to win.

Overall, however, the Caps have outscored the Leafs by a score of 9-7, and with Alex Ovechkin re-emerging as a bona-fide superstar, the Capitals are steamrolling everyone in the Eastern Conference.

As the Caps showed in the 5-1 thrashing they dealt the Leafs on Tuesday night, they have the ability to dominate the possession game, and their No. 1 ranked power play is even able to break through what has been an impenetrable penalty kill for the Leafs of late.

While I don't necessarily think that the Caps will sweep the Leafs (they too have some defensive woes that need to be addressed), this is a different Washington team than we saw through the first 11 games of the season.

If I were a Leafs fan, I'd be rooting for a first-round meeting with the Montreal Canadiens.

Prediction: Capitals win in seven


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