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The Leafs are a ‘dangerous team,’ and they’re making a run at a playoff spot

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The Toronto Maple Leafs are taking a healthy run at their first playoff appearance since 2013.

The Leafs (15-12-7) rolled into Tampa Bay on a three-game winning streak, after beating the Panthers, 3-2, in a shootout last night in Sunrise.

Toronto is now just three points back of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division, and the Leafs have three games in hand on the Bruins.

“The young guys are getting better and better and becoming dominant players,” Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock told reporters yesterday. “We trust them more and have become a better hockey club.”

Indeed, Auston MatthewsWilliam Nylander, and Mitch Marner, a.k.a. the “young guys,” were factors in beating the Panthers. Matthews scored his 17th of the season; Nylander potted his eighth, and Marner notched the shootout winner, after racking up nine shots in the actual game.

Tonight, the Leafs will take on a Lightning squad that is fully prepared for a tough test.

“They’re just a dangerous team,” said Bolts coach Jon Cooper. “I think their win-loss record is not indicative of how they’ve played. They could have more points than they have right now.”

Yes, they could. Especially if they were better in the shootout, instead of 1-5. In terms of score-adjusted Corsi, the Leafs are in the upper half of the NHL. And that certainly wasn’t the case prior to the arrivals of Matthews, Marner, Nylander and Babcock.

Read more: Babcock wants Leafs to be aggressive with the lead

If they can beat the Lightning in regulation, the Leafs will move into fourth place in the Atlantic, putting even more pressure on the Bruins and Senators, not to mention the Bolts and Panthers, two teams that came into the season with high expectations.

Don’t forget, the way things have gone in the Metropolitan Division, there may only be three playoff spots for Atlantic teams to grab. Montreal has a nice cushion at the top (for now, at least), but it’s going to be a serious scramble below.

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Related: It’s been a frustrating season for the Boston Bruins

Report: Blue Jackets RFA Anderson in contact with Hockey Canada about 2018 Olympics

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The preseason is well underway and Josh Anderson is still without a contract.

Anderson, who scored 17 goals and 29 points last season for the Columbus Blue Jackets, is one of two remaining restricted free agents without a new deal. The other is Andreas Athanasiou of the Detroit Red Wings.

While there were reports this summer about Athanasiou potentially going to the KHL for this season, John Shannon of Sportsnet reported on Thursday that Anderson’s representatives have reached out to Hockey Canada’s staff about the 2018 Olympics. 

Anderson’s entry-level contract, with an AAV of just over $894,000, expired at the end of last season.

Meanwhile, here is the latest on this ongoing contract situation.

Making an impression: Sergachev has ‘NHL written all over him’

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Mikhail Sergachev has, over the summer, stated his belief he can play in the NHL this season.

He had a small taste of NHL action last season, appearing in four games for Montreal — the team that selected him ninth overall in 2016 — before getting sent back to junior and then being traded in June to Tampa Bay, as part of a blockbuster involving Jonathan Drouin to the Habs.

Well, Sergachev made a statement Wednesday in his preseason debut for the Lightning.

He scored once. He also played more than 22 minutes, which led all Lightning players on the night. That included time on the power play and penalty kill. If he was looking to make a favorable impression, to show that he belongs at the NHL level when the regular season begins, this seems to be another step in that direction.

“You watch this kid skate, shoot, stickhandle, he’s got NHL written all over him,” Tampa Bay’s associate coach Rick Bowness told the Tampa Bay Times. “Now we’ve got to give him experience. How much can he handle?”

There is competition on the blue line, with eight defensemen under contract in Tampa Bay for this season. That includes Sergachev, who is still only 19 years old. After getting sent back to junior last season, he recorded 43 points in 50 games with Windsor and then won the Memorial Cup that spring. That said, he’s made it a point of saying going back to junior “is not an option” for him.

Related:

Looking to make the leap: Mikhail Sergachev

Report: Lupul will have ‘independent medical exam’

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Joffrey Lupul issued a statement Wednesday, saying he wouldn’t seek a second medical opinion after the Maple Leafs announced he didn’t pass his training camp physical.

A day later, reports have surfaced that the 33-year-old forward will, in fact, undergo another, independent medical test.

That is according to James Mirtle of The Athletic:

Earlier this week, Lupul made accusations against the Maple Leafs on Instagram.

“I’m ready … just awaiting the call,” Lupul wrote in the comments section of the Instagram post, per a screen grab. “haha failed physical? They cheat. Everyone lets them.”

Lupul, who didn’t pass his physical for a second year in a row, issued an apology yesterday. But those comments — which have since been deleted — seem to have grabbed the attention of the league.

Darren Dreger of TSN added to that, saying it’s the NHL pursuing a second medical opinion on this matter.

“The National Hockey League has that right to pursue the second opinion. That’s exactly what they’re engaging in right now,” Dreger reported Thursday.

“The reasoning behind it is because of the comment that Lupul made on social media. I’ll go back a year ago. The league didn’t step in a year ago but Lupul stayed quiet at that point. So they want to make sure — ‘They’ being the National Hockey League — that the medical evaluation from the Toronto Maple Leafs is 100 per cent above the board.”

Team USA won’t include NHL draft-eligible prospects at 2018 Olympics

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BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) General manager Jim Johannson has ruled out the possibility of the U.S. men’s hockey team having NHL draft-eligible prospects competing at the Winter Olympics in February.

Johannson tells The Associated Press he doesn’t view anyone from the 18-and-younger pool of prospects capable of cracking the projected lineup of non-NHL players, many of whom are opening this season playing in Europe.

USA Hockey’s assistant executive director says he’s also targeting a number of established college players, and would not rule out keeping a spot or two open for members of the U.S. team competing at the World Junior Championships this winter.

Johansson spoke in Buffalo, New York, on Thursday, where he is attending USA Hockey’s sixth annual All-American Prospects game. The game features the top 42 U.S.-born players eligible to be selected in the NHL draft in June.