Kapanen’s flight path parallels Leafs’ high aspirations

SUNRISE, FLA.—Kasperi Kapanen’s rise from a fourth-line winger with incredible skating skills to an option for the top line is just what the Maple Leafs are looking for as they enter the stretch run.

It’s all about getting better.

In contention for the Eastern Conference lead and with a Stanley Cup playoff berth all but guaranteed, the trick is to maintain momentum until the post-season arrives.

And there’s reason to believe they’ll make some noise when they get there.

According to Sports Club Stats, which rates the chances of pro teams making the playoffs and winning it all, the Leafs have a 100 per cent shot at the post-season.

It’s just 4.4 per cent when it comes to winning the Cup, but that’s seventh-best in the NHL with Monday’s opponent, the East-leading Tampa Bay Lightning, tops at 20.4 per cent. The others rated ahead of the Leafs, in order: Las Vegas, Boston, Nashville, Winnipeg and Pittsburgh — the two-time defending champion.

All of those contenders are in the same boat as the Leafs when it comes to the need to keep their competitiveness at a high level — and to keep getting better.

The Lightning and Bruins might have deeper and heavier rosters than the Leafs, but improvement by players such as Kapanen could narrow that gap.