Updated: March 21, 2014, 11:06 PM ET

Just A Thought


Scott Burnside@ESPN_Burnside: Toronto Maple Leafs fans might want to start considering this season Implosion Part Deux. After crumbling in the third period of Game 7 of the opening round of the playoffs last spring against the Boston Bruins, the Leafs are in the process of blowing a huge lead in the Atlantic Division and are on the brink of missing the playoffs completely after dropping their fifth in a row Sunday night (a 3-2 loss to the New Jersey Devils). That comes on the heels of Saturday's disappointing 4-3 loss to Montreal at home. Three of the five losses have been by one goal; the other two were decided by two-goal margins. The Leafs begin the week tied with the surging Detroit Red Wings for the two wild-card spots in the East with 80 points apiece. The problem for the Leafs is that they have only nine games remaining. The Washington Capitals are a point back in ninth place with a game in hand, and the Columbus Blue Jackets are two points back with two games in hand. Never mind the rumblings about coach Randy Carlyle's job security earlier this season; if the Leafs miss the postseason for what would be the eighth time in the past nine seasons, those mutterings will quickly grow to wails in Leafs Nation.

Craig Custance@CraigCustance: The collapse of the Maple Leafs has made the Eastern Conference wild-card race extremely compelling. The West? Not quite as exciting, and that's a credit to the Minnesota Wild. The franchise knows a thing or two about second-half collapses, but this group appears to have learned from the past. Minnesota has found a way to earn points in nearly every game lately, and Sunday night was no different. Down two on the road to the surging Red Wings, the Wild got goals from Jason Pominville, Charlie Coyle, Zach Parise and Matt Moulson to pull out a come-from-behind victory in overtime. Goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov got the win, improving to 2-0-2 since being acquired from Edmonton. Every single one of those players was acquired by general manager Chuck Fletcher in the past few years; his imprint is now firmly on this team. With the win, the Wild have earned at least one point in all but two games since the start of February. That's exactly how you secure a playoff spot.

Pierre LeBrun@Real_ESPNLeBrun: Scotty, I can just imagine what the radio sports talk shows are going to focus on today in Toronto. Not that long ago -- March 13, to be exact -- the Leafs beat the Kings in Los Angeles and all seemed well, with Toronto up three points on the Montreal Canadiens and Tampa Bay Lightning after that night, 10 points up on Washington, nine up on Detroit. But five straight losses in regulation have let the field back in, and allowed the Habs and Lightning to move ahead. You can almost forget now the thought of a Habs-Leafs series in the first round. Who knew missing goalie Jonathan Bernier for all five of those games would have such an impact? Backup James Reimer has clearly lost his confidence, and you wonder if coach Randy Carlyle might turn to Drew MacIntyre on Tuesday against the visiting St. Louis Blues (assuming Bernier isn't ready). Holy man, who could have imagined writing those words 11 days ago.

Katie Strang@KatieStrangESPN: Coming out of the Olympic break, the Blue Jackets seemed to emerge as one of the favorite sleeper teams to watch in the Eastern Conference, and just last week they were nestled quite nicely among the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division. But they haven't been able to string together consecutive wins in the past six games, and that has cost them valuable points. As of Monday, Columbus trails Toronto by two points for the last wild-card spot, and though the Maple Leafs appear to be on the brink of disaster, the Blue Jackets are not doing themselves any favors right now, either. Friday's 3-1 loss to the Rangers was a magnificent game on both ends of the ice -- spirited, physical, energetic -- and it's hard to imagine they did not suffer an emotional letdown in their visit to Long Island on Sunday. The Blue Jackets were stopped 2-0 by a feeble, injury-ravaged Islanders squad. The biggest question mark for Columbus right now? The power play, which was stifled on all six attempts Sunday and has not recorded a goal in the past 10 games. The Blue Jackets still have two games in hand on the Leafs, but they are going to have to show more consistency in order to earn a postseason berth.

Picture This

Marcus FolignoJeff Vinnick/NHLI via Getty ImagesEasy, fellas. Linesman Kiel Murchison got caught between Tom Sestito and Marcus Foligno.


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