NHL Game Of The Week: Toronto Maple Leafs vs New Jersey Devils

Toronto Maple Leafs vs New Jersey Devils
Date: Thursday, April 5th - 7:00 PM ET
Betting Line: TBD

The Toronto Maple Leafs are heading to the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs for the second consecutive season and for only the third time in the past eleven years. This season caps off a remarkable turnaround for the team that ranked dead last two years and now just set franchise records in wins and points. Meanwhile, this will be a critical match-up for the Devils who are hanging on for dear life to the eighth seed in the Eastern Conference. This, after the Devils themselves finished dead last in the East the previous year.

The Loafers, I mean my beloved Leafs, have morphed from pretenders to contenders far ahead of schedule. When head coach Mike Babcock, arguably the best coach in the league today, took over back in 2015 he prepared the Toronto fan base to get ready for a lot of pain. Nobody was expecting this. Heading into New Jersey, the Leafs are locked into the third spot in the Atlantic and will be rewarded with facing either the Bruins or Lightning (don't get me started on this relatively new seeding-yes, it promotes rivalries, but it also severely disadvantages elite conferences, like the Atlantic).

This game is relatively meaningless for the Leafs in terms of the standings, but it will be critical for them to maintain the momentum of the season as they head into arguably their toughest playoff series of this millennium. The final week of the regular season has the Leafs playing the Sabres, Red Wings, Devils and Canadiens. The Devils are the only playoff team of the bunch and, thus, I'm expecting the Leafs to take this one semi-seriously. Moreover, this game will have a personal feel as well given the fact that Brandon Shanahan stole (no, that's not an exaggeration) Leafs' GM Lou Lamoriello away from his former squad in New Jersey. Lamoriello, perhaps even more than Babcock, has been the central figure in the Maple Leafs resurgence.

The Devils, as mentioned, are fending off a late season surge from the Florida Panthers, who are the only team with any mathematical chance of catching them. After two massive games against their cross-Hudson rivals out of the Big Apple this week, the Devils welcome the team out of Canada's New York (no one actually calls Toronto that). The addition of center Taylor Hall has been critical in the Devils' renaissance. I'm expecting a huge game for the Toronto native. Don't be surprised if he finishes the game with multiple points.

As great of a season as Toronto has had, the Devils just simply need this game more. I wouldn't be surprised if Toronto even rested a few key players, especially given their recent injury situation. I would steer clear of the over/under in this one, but I like the home squad with everything to play for.

Pick: New Jersey Devils ML