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Nine players who helped the Maple Leafs get back to the playoffs

Toronto ends nine-year drought to finally make the postseason. Here is a look at the nine Leafs who made the difference.

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1. James Reimer The Leafs biggest question mark entering the season became their MVP. Reimer’s .922 save percentage entering Saturday’s game put him in eighth among goaltenders that started 20 or more games, making him one of the more dependable No. 1s leaguewide. And his 17-6-5 record is hard to argue with.

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2. Phil Kessel Phil the Thrill may have started slowly, but he caught fire late, eventually climbing into a tie for seventh in the NHL in scoring with 46 points after 44 games. Surprisingly, too, only 16 of them were goals, as Kessel found his inner playmaker and made better use of his teammates.

Mark Blinch/Reuters

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3. Dion Phaneuf Oft-criticized and heavily burdened on the Leafs back end, the captain has quietly had his best season in Toronto. Tied for fifth in scoring among defencemen and on pace for 50 points over an 82-game season, Phaneuf’s greatest feat may have been logging more ice time than all but four others leaguewide while playing large portions of the season with Korbinian Holzer or Mike Kostka as his partner.

Reuters

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4. Nazem Kadri The Leafs biggest surprise of the year is an easy call. Kadri, 22, emerged in his first full NHL season as an excellent offensive player, with two hat tricks powering a torrid point-a-game pace after 40 games. “The Dream” may have slowed of late but that shouldn’t be a surprise given he’s had basically third line minutes all year.

Reuters

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5. Cody Franson Right behind Phaneuf in scoring among defencemen is the big man from Sicamous, B.C., with the big shot. Franson spent a lot of his first season last year in the doghouse but has been a key cog this time around, putting up a 50-point pace and logging increasingly bigger minutes as the season has gone along.

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6. Nikolai Kulemin Perennially unheralded and perennially underrated. Perhaps the best two-way forward on the team, Kulemin has contributed more points at even strength than all but three others on the team and played some of the most difficult minutes in the league. Add in his role as the No. 2 forward on one of the best penalty kills in the league, and it’s clear that Kulemin’s value far exceeds his point totals and modest salary.

The Canadian Press

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7. Carl Gunnarsson Another Leaf in the underrated category. Playing through a chronic hip injury all season, Gunnarsson nonetheless logged the second most even strength minutes on the team and was sorely missed in the 11 games he was out of the lineup. On a blueline lacking depth, the quiet Swede’s dramatic effect on the Leafs goals against is bigger than anyone outside of James Reimer: 2.30 per 60 minutes of 5-on-5 when he’s been on the ice and 3.28 when he’s not.

The Canadian Press

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8. James van Riemsdyk With Joffrey Lupul out of the lineup for 32 games with two serious injuries and a suspension, the Leafs top line desperately needed a replacement and found a worthy one in JVR. The 23-year-old caught fire early with 11 goals in his first 18 games as a Leaf, helping propel Toronto to becoming one of the highest scoring teams in the league.

Reuters

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9. Jay McClement His former coach, Andy Murray, calls him “the stopper” and the Leafs saw why this season. Toronto jumped from third last a year ago to third overall in penalty killing, in large part thanks to McClement’s unique savvy when down a man. Amazingly, he led the league in shorthanded minutes played, with 3:40 per game – or nearly 70 per cent of every PK the team had all year.

The Canadian Press

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