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Rick Zamperin: Simulation shows a white-hot Toronto Maple Leafs heading into the playoffs

Toronto Maple Leafs centre Mitch Marner (16) celebrates his goal against the New York Islanders during an NHL hockey game in Toronto. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Frank Gunn

What if the COVID-19 pandemic never happened?

It’s a question that I have asked myself time and time again over the last few weeks, allowing the myriad of ‘what if’s’ to dance around in my obviously over-active mind.

First and foremost, we would not have seen more than 169,000 people suddenly pass away since the start of 2020, social and physical distancing wouldn’t be buzzwords, millions of people would still be at work and the global economy would not be in tatters.

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We’d also have sports.

The Stanley Cup playoffs would be underway right about now, same for the NBA playoffs, and the Major League Baseball and MLS seasons would be in full swing as well.

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Instead, sports fans are bored stiff.

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Speaking of which, that boredom led me to simulate the remaining 12 games of the Toronto Maple Leafs season using EA Sports’ NHL 20 video game.

The results of the simulation were mesmerizing, especially if you’re a Leafs fan.

Starting with their home game versus the Nashville Predators, which was scheduled for March 12, and ending with their regular season finale at Scotiabank Arena on April 4 against the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto bulldozed through its opposition.

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The simulation saw the Maple Leafs record a remarkable 10-2 record down the stretch and enter the post-season on a seven-game winning streak.

Frederik Andersen registered two shutouts in the last few weeks of the season but it was Auston Matthews who put the team on his shoulders.

Matthews scored 10 goals over the last dozen games in the NHL 20 simulation to finish with a Leafs single-season record 57 tallies on the year.

What a ‘what if’ that would have been.

EA Sports NHL 20 game-by-game simulation results:

March 12 – Toronto 1, Nashville 0. Zach Hyman scored the only goal of the game in the second period and Freddie Andersen made 37 saves for the shutout.

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March 14 – Toronto 3, Boston 2. Hyman scored twice and added an assist for what would have been Toronto’s third consecutive victory.

March 17 – Toronto 6, New Jersey 4. Morgan Rielly netted his first career hat trick as the Leafs rallied from a 3-0 deficit in the first period.

March 19 – New York Islanders 4, Toronto 2. Johnny Boychuk had three assists as the Isles put a stop to Toronto’s four-game winning run.

March 21 – Columbus 4, Toronto 3. The Leafs gave up 48 shots and suffer their second loss in a row, their last defeat of the regular season.

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March 23 – Toronto 6, Florida 1. Auston Matthews records his second hat trick of the season and linemate Mitch Marner chips in with three assists.

March 25 – Toronto 5, Tampa Bay 3. The Leafs jump out to a 3-0 lead in Tampa Bay and hang on to beat the Bolts for the second time in two weeks.

March 26 – Toronto 3, Carolina 0. Despite playing on back-to-back nights, the Leafs blank the Hurricanes as Marner scores twice and Andersen registers his fifth shutout of the year.

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March 28 – Toronto 3, Ottawa 2. Matthews is up to his old tricks again, scoring two goals in the first period, in the Maple Leafs’ fourth straight win.

March 31 – Toronto 3, Washington 1. Andersen turns aside 43 shots in one of his best games of the season.

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April 2 – Toronto 6, Detroit 1. In their last regular season game at Scotiabank Arena, Kasperi Kapanen pots in a pair of goals for the blue and white.

April 4 – Toronto 3, Montreal 1. Carey Price earns first star honours with 43 saves, but John Tavares ices the game with an empty net goal.

The simulation shows that Toronto allowed two or fewer goals in eight of the last dozen games and finished the season with 101 points, good for third place in the Atlantic Division behind Boston and Tampa Bay.

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