NASHVILLE — The day began with a tornado warning in this part of Tennessee, the week could end with the Maple Leafs storming into a near certain playoff position.
In less than two weeks, Toronto has taken huge points from four teams ahead of it in the standings, getting to verge of 90 points with another win Thursday, 3-1 here against the Predators. In what’s becoming their formula — survive a couple of early hiccups thanks to Frederik Andersen, check tight and rely on young snipers and special teams, their record is now 9-2-1 in the past 12 tests.
That includes points taken at the expense of the Blackhawks, Blue Jackets and Preds, teams not in their conference, but valuable nonetheless in the air-tight East. The Leafs also beat and passed Boston in that stretch. When the standings were re-jigged for Friday morning, Toronto was two points away from the second place Ottawa Senators in the Atlantic Division.
“These games were a struggle for us at the beginning of the year,” observed Auston Matthews, who scored his 36th goal, the eventual winner, one of two power-play conversions. “At this stage of the season to close out close games is definitely a positive sign for us.”
There was justifiable concern when Andersen missed five periods with a suspected head injury, but he showed no weaknesses. A late Nashville surge, out-shooting the Leafs 13-2 in the third, once again saw him…
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