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Maple Leafs clinch first playoff berth since 2013

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It took 81 games and a few missed opportunities, but the Toronto Maple Leafs are headed back playoffs for the first time since 2013.

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After failing to clinch a playoff spot against the Capitals and Lightning earlier in the week, the Maple Leafs locked in their reservation to the big dance with a thrilling 5-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night.

Connor Brown’s deflection into the back of the Pens’ goal with 2:42 left put the Leafs ahead, 4-3, in a back-and-forth third period capped by Auston Matthews’ historic 40th goal by way of empty net.

The wild affair included a Pittsburgh go-ahead marker off the foot of Leafs defenceman Jake Gardiner in the third, which came one period after Frederik Andersen was knocked out of the game after taking a hit to the headed from Tom Sestito.

The Leafs are now tied with the Bruins at 95 points, but need a point Sunday against the Blue Jackets to secure third place in the Atlantic Division. If the Leafs and Bruins remain at 95 points, Boston owns the tiebreaker due to more regulation and overtime wins.

Related: Maple Leafs still not ready to smell the roses

If the Leafs pulls out a point Sunday, Toronto and Ottawa will square off in Battle of Ontario, Vol. 5. If not, they’ll hit the road to open their first-round series against the Presidents Trophy-winning Washington Capitals.

This marks only the second time in 12 seasons the Maple Leafs have found themselves inside the playoff picture, their last appearance ending in a Game 7 heartbreaker against the Boston Bruins in 2013.

The Maple Leafs weren’t supposed to be in this position so quickly, having finished last in the NHL just a year ago. But they’re not just here for a participation ribbon. They have a top-flight offence that boasts five 60-point scorers, led by the rookie trio of Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitch Marner. They have a solid goaltender in Andersen, provided he’s healthy. And they have a pretty good coach in Mike Babcock, too.

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So much for a year of pain.