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Leafs winger Jason Blake faced a similar fate with Isles last year

The Canadian Press
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The Hockey News
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Leafs winger Jason Blake faced a similar fate with Isles last year

The Canadian Press
By:

TORONTO - The math suggests the Toronto Maple Leafs probably need at least 22 points from the final 28 at hand for their improbable playoff push to have a happy ending.

Just don't tell them that. They're not big on math right now. "One point more than the ninth-place team is what we need," Leafs winger Alex Steen said Wednesday after practice at Air Canada Centre.

"Noooo," Leafs head coach Paul Maurice said emphatically when asked whether he had crunched the numbers. "Because there's a difference between percentages and probability always and we can't live on those."

Maurice, whose squad takes on the Bruins in Boston on Thursday night, says there have been too many good sports stories over the years involving teams finding a way when the math didn't look good.

Even though it looks like a long shot at this point, he's not thinking about it.

"(There were) three hands on Eli Manning late in the game and things turned out OK for those guys," said Maurice, referencing the Giants' Super Bowl upset victory over the Patriots last month. "We're all aware of (the math), but I don't think you can perform in sports and think like that.

"You can't say well, 'Geez, we're behind by two going into the third period, the numbers say we're not coming back from this.' Yet we were able to do that last week a few times. Let's try and stay away from that."

Leafs winger Jason Blake knows exactly what his coach is talking about. Last season with the New York Islanders, his team was four points out of a playoff spot with four games to go in the regular season and were largely written off by everyone with the focus on Toronto and Montreal battling for eighth.

"We lost six out of nine I think at one point and we found ourselves outside looking in," Blake recalled Wednesday. "But you just keep going."

They needed to win all four games and hope that Toronto and Montreal lost a few games.

In stunning fashion, the Isles did it - with backup Wade Dubielewicz in net for all four games as Rick DiPietro rested from a concussion. They beat the Rangers, Leafs, Flyers and Devils - the last game in a dramatic Sunday afternoon shootout to knock off the Leafs from the last playoff spot.

So you never know, Blake says. The Leafs are six points out of a playoff spot with 14 games left. Buffalo remained in ninth place with 73 points, one point behind eighth-place Philadelphia, following a 3-1 home loss to Washington on Wednesday night. The Capitals moved into 10th place with 72 points, only two behind the Flyers. The Islanders are next in 11th at 71 points followed by Toronto and Florida at 68 points apiece.

Six teams battling for one playoff spot. Again, the math doesn't look good.

"I don't crunch the math, it's pretty evident where we're at and what we need to do," said Blake. "Obviously we probably need help along the way but the most important is that we take care of ourselves. Just make sure you play your best hockey.

"And lately we've done that, we've played very well."

They blew a chance Tuesday night when Philadelphia lost at home to Buffalo but the Leafs also lost 4-1 to New Jersey.

"Obviously last night would have been key for us, it would have put us four points back of Philadelphia," said Blake. "But we just have to keep going. Every night is a playoff game for us."

The worst thing they can do is stare at the standings and start wondering what they need to do.

"I know if's a cliche but it really is a game at a time because if we start thinking too far ahead and not have enough focus on the task at hand, then you tend to get sloppy and there's a chance you'll miss those points," said Steen.

The Leafs are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games. They outshot New Jersey 42-25 in Tuesday's loss.

"The last little while we've been playing pretty good," said Steen. "If we keep up the work ethic that we've had the past few weeks, we're going to be getting a lot of points and making a push for that last playoff spot."

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Leafs winger Jason Blake faced a similar fate with Isles last year