Canada's only representatives in the NHL playoffs squared off as the regular season winds down, but no easy conclusions could be drawn about their chances.
The Winnipeg Jets, who will finish second in the Western Conference's Central Division, ground out a 3-1 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday by using their size and speed. But the Leafs could argue their own celebrated speed and skill was blunted by playing a road game the night before and, besides, the game had no effect on either team's place in the league standings.
Like the Jets, the Leafs' regular-season finish has been known for weeks. Despite a franchise-record 47 wins so far, the Leafs will remain third in the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division. They will open the NHL playoffs on the road against either the Boston Bruins or the Tampa Bay Lightning, as those two teams will fight for first place in the division and the right to play the second wild-card finisher rather than the Maple Leafs.
Barring a miracle run by the St. Louis Blues, four points behind the second-place Minnesota Wild with four games to play for both teams, the Jets are destined to meet the Wild at home to start the postseason. Both the Leafs and the Jets will use the last week of the regular season to make sure their key players get some rest before the playoff grind.
The Leafs do have one injury problem, as promising rookie defenceman Travis Dermott left Saturday's game after he was hit on the right foot by a Jets shot from the point. The exact nature of the injury is unclear, as Dermott actually favoured his left leg as he limped off the ice.
Leafs head coach Mike Babcock said he will not make any immediate decisions about replacing Dermott.
"We have [defence], we'll take a look at it," Babcock said after the game. "I don't know if he is out for a bit, I don't know anything about it to be honest with you.
"He had X-rays and there was nothing and he'll have whatever scans they do next and see how he's feeling [Sunday]. We'll make a decision on it."
However, the Leafs had Sunday off and more information on Dermott's injury will not be available until Monday, when the Leafs play the Buffalo Sabres. If Dermott cannot play Monday, Connor Carrick is the likely replacement for him and the Leafs may call up one of Andreas Borgman, Calle Rosen or Martin Marincin from their Toronto Marlies farm team as insurance.
Even though Dermott, 21, is a rookie, losing him for even a short while in the playoffs is not a pleasant prospect. After he was promoted in January, Dermott proved to be a big upgrade on the defence, which was the Leafs' weakest unit at the time. His speed, skill and confidence in handling the puck under pressure give the Leafs mobility and puck-movement on all three pairs when everyone is healthy.
Rest will be the priority for at least some players this week as the Leafs finish with three games, the latter two coming Thursday in New Jersey against the Devils with the regular-season finale at home against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday. Goaltender Frederik Andersen was the only player identified as getting a sure night off, which means a rare second consecutive start on Monday for backup Curtis McElhinney. Other candidates for at least one game off are veterans Patrick Marleau, 38, and Ron Hainsey, 37.
"I know [McElhinney] is starting again the next game and then what we'll do is get [Andersen] a couple going in," Babcock said. "We haven't talked about the rest of the crew."
Babcock may not give out any more nights off aside from the above trio, as his young charges will probably get four days off when the regular season ends on Saturday for them. The Leafs' playoff series is not likely to begin before Thursday, April 12.
"These games are important for us because the reality is we're probably not starting until Thursday after we finish," Babcock said. "There's lots of time to hang around. We've got lots of that, so let's keep playing hard."
Rest will get a little more focus with the Jets, as they have back-to-back home games on Monday and Tuesday against the Ottawa Senators and the Canadiens, respectively. They finish up on the road against the Calgary Flames and Chicago Blackhawks on Thursday and Saturday.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice was just happy his team showed its true colours against the Leafs after a sloppy loss to the Blackhawks last Thursday. It was reassuring that once again the players corrected themselves rather than letting the poor play linger.
"We were much better than we were [against Chicago], so we corrected the things we needed to," Maurice said. "It was a grinder out there. I thought we built as the game went on, got better."