Leafs set up for easiest playoff matchup

A solid argument for the Leafs finishing in 2nd place.

Leafs set up for easiest playoff matchup

It goes against the grain to fight for anything but first place in the division, but with the league's relatively new playoff format, second place may the best-case scenario for this year's Toronto Maple Leafs.

Connor Bromley of The Leafs Nation outlines a very compelling case. As a quick refresher, the playoff format now stipulates that the division winners each play one of the wild card teams, while the second and third place teams in each division square off in the first round.

With the strength of the Metropolitan division being what it is compared to that of the Atlantic's, the wild card spots will almost certainly be occupied by one of Pittsburgh, Columbus, Washington, or one of the two New York teams.

In other words, if the Leafs win the Atlantic, they play one of those teams, with very little doubt. If they place second, they play one of Detroit, Montreal, Boston, or Ottawa.

The trade-off is pretty clear. Last year's playoffs were a clear example of how finishing first was detrimental to the Atlantic division winning Montreal Canadiens. They took on the New York Rangers, a team that finished in a wild card spot despite finishing with nearly the same number of points as Montreal. The Rangers defeated the Canadiens in 6 games.

Meanwhile, the Sens lost the division and took on the 3rd place Boston Bruins. That was a significantly easier matchup, and it brought them all the way to game 7 of the conference finals against the eventual Stanley Cup winning Penguins.

With the Tampa Bay Lightning poised to take the division, the Leafs should be content to finish second, as it will pave the simplest path to the finals.