Feel free to celebrate Toronto Maple Leafs fans. You're headed back to the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
This accomplishment might not sound like that big of a deal to fans accustomed to regular playoff runs, but for fans of the Maple Leafs this is truly an occasion worth getting excited over. Toronto's most recent playoff appearance was back during the 2003-04 seasons when they made it to the second round, ultimately falling to the Philadelphia Flyers four games to two.
A lot has changed since the Maple Leafs were among the top-8 teams that move on to the playoffs. For starters, the NHL suffered through two lockouts, one which killed off the 2004-05 season and one which shortened the current season. The idea of a shootout deciding the outcome of a game was barely a thought in any fan's mind the last time the Maple Leafs were contending for the Stanley Cup.
Give credit where it's due. Phil Kessel has been the focal point of jokes for years, but his play this season is nothing to laugh at. He leads the Maple Leafs with 48 points in 45 games. He joins a cast of teammates that have some strong weapons both on forward (Joffrey Lupul, James van Riemsdyk) and on defense (Dion Phaneuf). The Leafs also have one of the best stories in the NHL in the breakout season by Nazem Kadri. Add in some strong goaltending from James Reimer and you have yourself a playoff spot for the first time in nearly a decade.
Toronto's playoff spot is well deserved, especially for the fans that sat through some truly miserable seasons.