The major storyline for tonight's Toronto Maple Leafs game is the return of Tomas Kaberle to the ACC in a Boston Bruins sweater.
Expect a video tribute. Expect the appropriate amounts of cheering and razzing. Leafs Coach Ron Wilson said his team won't focus on shutting him down; Bruins fans that have seen Kaberle tally three points overall, and one power-play point, in 12 games probably feel he's doing that well enough on his own.
But reunions aside, here it is for the Leafs: There have 10 games left. They have 72 points, trailing the Buffalo Sabres by four for the eight seed but with the Sabres having two games in-hand. They're also four beyond the Carolina Hurricanes, who have also played 72 games.
A 4-0 loss to the lottery-bound Florida Panthers on Thursday night was a punch to the gut; their 2-4-1 mark in their last seven has slowed the momentum that had the Leafs poking the playoff bubble.
Huge game. Bitter rival. A chance to spark another late-season revival with a victory. But are the Leafs simply exhausted from the chase?
Clarke MacArthur, who has one goal in his last 10 games and was a minus-2 against the Panthers, spoke to the Globe & Mail about the intense playoff race, and how taxing it is mentally:
"I feel like the guys are mentally stressed out a little bit," said MacArthur, who has been filling in as an alternate captain with Colby Armstrong and Mike Komisarek out of the lineup. "That's almost worse than being tired physically. We emptied the tank in the last few road trips and we've been on a pretty hard stretch.
"Every day, it's we're almost in the playoffs and then we're not. It's draining. It's one of those things when you're fighting for one of those last spots, it's a mental grind the whole way."
Every play, every decision … the scrutiny is amplified with the schedule running short. Witness Wilson's decision start J.S. Giguere against the lowly Panthers to give rookie James Reimer a break in the second half of back-to-back games. Said Wilson:
"Shame on me for playing a Stanley Cup winner, a Conn Smythe winner," Wilson chided his critics, "who, up until he was injured, was our No. 1 goalie. I haven't seen Reims score a goal yet or lead a 2-on-1 rush.
"The timing (Thursday) was perfect. The plan last week was that Jiggy was going to play in one of those back-to-back games and he did. If we looked tired, it was the skaters' up front. We've had to play seven in 12 days. We generated nothing on offence, but it had nothing to do with our goaltender.
"If Reimer would have lost 4-0, the exact same (complaints) would have been 'Why would he play Reimer back-to back?' I knew it would be difficult no matter who played goal. Again, Jiggy has played really well for us at times this year, he was 100%, well rested and has been in some games the past couple of weeks."
Reimer's been an emotional leader for the Leafs during their second half playoff push. He's 1-1 in two games against the Bruins, with a 2.52 GAA and a .926 save percentage. It's a huge spot for him, assuming he starts.
Via the National Post, Wilson talked about how quality of competition is a benefit to the Leafs:
"The toughest teams for us to play right now would be the Floridas or the Ottawas or the Islanders, who are essentially out of it, and you're seeing it with teams that have got more experience or are better teams," Wilson said. "New Jersey goes into Ottawa and loses. The teams that have nothing to play for can risk making mistakes without consequences, and a team like us is more going to tighten up against those teams than, say against the Bruins."
Boston's 1-2-3 in their last six. They're not going to be doing the Leafs any favors. And if things don't work out for Toronto … there's a flow chart for that.