After going goal-less for an eight game stretch early in January, Marian Gaborik is contributing at a decent pace now, with 14 points over his last 17 games. Must have been the milk carton.

When Maple Leaf Gardens closed its doors for the last time in 1999 and permitted the rats to have full access to the building, a banner in the rafters was brought from the old rink to the Air Canada Centre, the Leafs’ new home. The banner was a touching bit of sentimentality that read “1931-1999: Memories and dreams.”

That still hangs high above each Leaf home game. Soon, we’ll discover if a couple minor edits need to be made because of the Leafs’ yearly February and March teasing, creating memories of false hope.

Headlines and Storylines

Assessing the Leafs’ chances

While there aren’t nearly as many teams involved in the East, the dynamics between the two conferences are providing the recipe for two of the most intriguing playoff races in recent memory. In the West, the sheer number of teams that are involved and will stay involved is captivating, but the East brings a different flavour. Lewis focused on the Devils earlier today while highlighting the two teams that have miraculously risen from the dead. The other, of course, is the Leafs.

Prior to Saturday’s setback against the defending champs, Toronto had earned points in nine straight games. But much like their counterparts out west, the Leafs have discovered how difficult it can be to gain ground as February turns into March. They’ve been as close as three points from the eighth seed over the past week, but haven’t quite been able to get over that hump. A three-point game between Carolina and Buffalo on Thursday didn’t help matters.

Looking forward, the Leafs have 16 games remaining, only five of which are against teams with a record below .500. The three key games will come when the Sabres visit the ACC twice, and the Leafs travel to Carolina on March 16. What’s daunting and discouraging for Leafs Nation is that six of Toronto’s remaining games come against some of the powerhouse teams in both conferences. The Leafs host the Flyers, Bruins, and Capitals, and travel to Boston and Detroit.

Over the last five years, the average point total of the eighth-seeded team in the East has been 92 points. To reach that number, the Leafs have to earn at least 25 of the possible 32 points available over the rest of their schedule.

Not so lonely on the island

No one likes a spoiler. They’re the fun vacuums of sports. When everyone just wants them to roll over and die, these no good, basement dwelling teams that have done nothing all year start to show some life. The Leafs saw this late last month when they had to gut out a tough 2-1 win over the Islanders.

The Islanders have won four of their last 10 games, which is mediocre for any other team, but a mild improvement by their standards. Of all the potential spoilers, the losers from Long Island stand to have the most impact on the Eastern playoff race.

Strengthened by improved goaltending from Al Montoya and Nathan Lawson, the Islanders have six games against teams fighting for the seventh and eighth seeds. They play the Leafs and Hurricanes once, and the Rangers and Devils twice.

Nothing says fun like a linesman getting bonked in the beak

With all the activity leading up to this year’s trade deadline, we all expected to receive a lump of coal on hockey’s Christmas morning. And that’s exactly what happened.

This is a week in review, so on some level I feel obligated to at least briefly dwell on one of the most important days in the hockey calendar, a day that kicked off Week 21. But I can’t do it. Forks are within reach.

Over the past week we’ve analyzed the deadline thoroughly, breaking down the buyers, sellers, and Dale Tallon murdering his roster. Sometimes, your computer just needs to smile. So with that in mind, let’s look back at a far more entertaining event from this past week.

Sharks defenceman Jason Demers accidentally punched linesman Brian Moch. Pow right in the kisser!

Quick Hits

  • It’s about that time of the year when hockey scribes who cover teams that have a playoff berth easily clinched start to take vacations. Naturally, this results in pictures of blonde women with roses in their mouths being broadcasted over the interwebs.
  • While we’re pointing out social media usage that we can never un-see, we’d like to ask James Van Reimsdyk to reconsider his use of cell phone technology.
  • Over the next week we’ll all start preparing for St. Patty’s day by dusting off our green hats,re-stocking the Jameson Whiskey, and listening to “Home for a rest” on an endless loop. As I started my own preparation, I was disappointed to learn that there have only been five Irish-born players in the history of the NHL. This makes sense, because beer league hockey on Sunday morning would have been a lot different if Jameson was introduced.
  • This can’t be written enough: if we reach a bit and include the Blue Jackets and Devils, it’s astounding that with less than 20 games left only six teams are out of playoff contention.

Trending Teams

Penthouse

Boston Bruins: We seem to be discovering something about Nathan Horton. Some players use the rugged, fist-filled physical aspect of their game to jumpstart themselves offensively. Horton is one of these players.

He’s had a productive but inconsistent year overall, and with 43 points through 63 games he’ll still hover around his career average of 53 points. But in his last 12 games Horton has fought twice, and has 22 PIMs and 13 points. In the 12 games prior to that he had nine PIMs and four points.

Keep dropping the mitts, Nathan. Your new-found penchant for punch-ups factored into Boston’s recent seven-game winning streak.

Outhouse

Philadelphia Flyers: Things aren’t so lovely in the city famous for something about brothers and loving. With the latest blow also the most devastating this Sunday during a 7-0 debacle against the Rangers, the Flyers have now lost four straight. But this goes beyond a four-game bump in the road for a team that’s two points away from being knocked off of its perch atop both the Eastern Conference and the Atlantic Division.

The Flyers needed overtime to beat those pesky, playoff-hope-spoiling Islanders just over a week ago, and lost to Ottawa. That’s two of the bottom three teams in the league, a mini streak of darkness that can be blamed on a regression in the crease. Over their last five games Philadelphia has surrendered 21 goals.

Hat tip to Greg Caggiano for the fine work on the Gaborik milk carton search.