Matthews is red hot and Maple Leafs sure look like a playoff team right now

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At this moment, the margin of error is small, but the Toronto Maple Leafs look more and more like a (gasp) playoff team after Friday’s 4-2 win against the New Jersey Devils. And Auston Matthews looks more and more like the Calder winner, too.

Since reaching the point of mediocrity (11-11-7) with a 3-2 shootout loss to the Coyotes on Dec. 15, the Leafs have been on a roll. They’ve gone 7-1-1 since then, failing to generate a standings point in just one contest.

Speaking of the standings, they’re now in third place in their division. Even with things looking tight, their outlook is promising, especially if the Ottawa Senators can’t keep up their own surprising pace:

Atlantic standings

1. Canadiens – 54 points in 39 games played
2. Senators – 44 points in 37 GP
3. Maple Leafs – 44 points in 38 GP

4. Bruins – 44 in 41 GP
5. Lightning – 42 in 40
6. Panthers – 42 in 40
7. Red Wings – 39 in 39
8. Sabres – 37 in 38

The inactive Bruins fell past the wild card ranks, as the Capitals (53 in 38) and Flyers (45 in 40) are ahead of the pack.

Considering the tight nature of the race for the last two spots in the Atlantic, it would be foolish to guarantee Toronto makes it. Still, things haven’t looked this good for the Maple Leafs in ages.

Then again, it’s been quite a while since they had a player as promising as Auston Matthews.

He already scored his 21st goal of his outstanding rookie season, and you really don’t need to qualify his accomplishments as “great for a rookie,” either.

Wow.

Again, plenty can go wrong; Maple Leafs fans know that things can fall apart rapidly, even for a team that’s in prime playoff position pretty late in a season.

Still, for those optimists or for those willing to buy into the Matthews and Mike Babcock hype … this franchise might just be a little ahead of schedule.