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Lupul injury may be final nail in Leafs coffin

Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel (81) celebrates an empty-net goal against the New York Islanders with teammate Joffrey Lupul (19) in the third period of their NHL hockey game on Friday, Dec. 23, 2011, at Nassau Coliseum in Uniondale, NY. Kessel and Lupul will join Toronto Maple Leafs teammate Dion Phaneuf in enemy territory at the NHL all-star game. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-John Dunn

John Dunn/CP

First things first: The Toronto Maple Leafs playoff hopes are slim to none right now anyway.

Their schedule is tough, they need to win roughly 11 of their final 16 games to get to 89 points, and they're closer to 14th in the Eastern Conference than eighth right now.

The fat lady isn't singing yet, but she's warming up.

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But minus Joffrey Lupul, who is now out three to four weeks with a shoulder injury suffered Tuesday night, the Leafs chances are even slimmer than the modest 13 per cent they're currently given at

Lupul has slowed down, sure, but he still has 15 points in the 17 games since taking part in the all-star break, helping the top line provide much of what little offence Toronto has been able to muster during this horrendous 2-10-1 stretch.

Without Lupul, new coach Randy Carlyle will have no choice but to sub someone like Nikolai Kulemin - he of seven goals all season - onto his top line with Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel and hope for the best.

And the best at this point looks like playing out the string and attempting to teach a few things about playing well defensively in the NHL.

For all the faults of the Leafs this season, offensive production from their top line hasn't been one of them, with Kessel and Lupul sitting fifth and sixth in the scoring race after career years.

Both have also been remarkably healthy, without a single game missed to this point, which above all else, speaks to some of the good fortune this team has had.

Lupul's story, meanwhile, has been one of the feel-good ones of the NHL season, with the Edmonton native emerging from two seasons ruined by injury to become the comeback story of the year.

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Even with his latest injury, he's a shoo-in to be nominated for the Masterton Trophy - and may even win.

He has probably been this sorry team's MVP, putting in long hours in the gym, on the ice and with the media in order to become part of Toronto's leadership group.

He'd also be a more fitting player to wear an 'A' on his jersey than several of those who do so now, given his role and relative experience on a young team.

That he goes down now, with the Leafs long-shot playoff hopes hanging by a thread, well, with the way the second half of the season has gone, that's rather predictable.

Significant injuries had to hit at some point - and here they finally are.

That three to four week window Lupul is out means he'll miss at least 10 and up to 13 of Toronto's final 16 games, making for a return just as the schedule begins to ease up a bit.

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It's not unfathomable that the Leafs are only able to win four or five times between then and now, which would leave them with fewer than 80 points, out of playoff contention and right on the cusp of a lottery pick with a few games to go.

Losing Lupul is a blow, there's no question, but more and more, getting a decent draft pick may be the only positive out of the rest of the season.

This helps on that front, provided Toronto doesn't suddenly catch fire for another too little, too late end of season run.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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