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The Maple Leafs just may be the team no one really wants to play…

It’s entirely likely that the more experienced Washington Capitals will outlast the young, upstart Maple Leafs in the first round of the ongoing NHL playoffs. But while the Leafs were the 8th seed going into the spring showdown, my guess is they weren’t really a team the Caps wanted to play.

For that matter, I’m not sure any of the upper tier, high-seed clubs would really want the Leafs as an opponent right now. Why?  It’s not that they are not beatable. I’m sure they can be beaten. It’s just that they seem to have an attitude about them, some kind of self-belief that, despite the fact they haven’t won anything yet as a team and they are young and inexperienced (especially when it comes to NHL playoff hockey), they just know they’re good. They believe they can play with anyone.

Maybe they can.

While every team in the playoffs is dangerous, the Leafs have the kind of speed and skill level (and yes, youthful enthusiasm) that is hard for even the most determined teams to defend against.

That confidence maybe comes from Babcock, but it also has to do with the fact that there are a lot of young guys on this team that can flat out play. They’re fast. They’re well coached. They have an excellent netminder in Andersen who is stopping a lot of pucks. And, they seem to enjoy playing with one another, which has to count for something.

As with most teams at this time of year, the energy levels on the club are high.  While each game is a grind and there isn’t supposed to be much space, they’re creating chances and have buried just enough to be even in their series against the President’s Trophy winners.

They lost a heartbreaker on the road in Game 1. Their response? Play another strong road game, and keep playing to win. This time, they did.

They'll have to overcome another loss on the blueline, with Polak now done for the season. I like Polak a lot. He brings the kind of grit that every team needs, especially at this time of year. But teams like the Bruins are having their own challenges in terms of injuries and blueline depth, and managing to play pretty good playoff hockey, too. So Babcock will just have to tap the next guy on the shoulder and make sure they’re ready—especially if Zaitsev is not available for Game 3 on Monday night at the ACC.

That said, I don’t think anyone’s worried. They just seem ready to do what they have to do.

Heck, Gardiner has already played more than 65 minutes in the first two games of the playoffs. (I remember posting here years ago that he was one of those guys who could seemingly skate all day, play long shifts and rarely looked tired.) He can handle it.  For his part, Rielly has played almost 65 minutes as well and been a difference-maker, too.  It brings back memories of the salad days of McCabe and Kaberle on the Pat Quinn Toronto blueline of the early 2000s, when the duo would routinely play 30 minutes a night come playoff time, and more as needed in some of those classic overtimes contests.

Hunwick has logged over 60 minutes so far, and Marincin was a plus 2 in over 30 minutes of ice time in a high-stress Game 2.

Again, it just feels as though the Leafs can handle what the Caps have been throwing and will be able to throw at them.

Washington may have another gear we haven’t seen yet.  We'll see.  Maybe they underestimated the Leafs. Who knows?  But the important thing is the Leafs have clearly not underestimated themselves.

That doesn’t guarantee they will win the series, but I’d be stunned if they didn’t make it very, very difficult for the favoured Capitals to do so.


  1. When Zaitsev and Polak 'went down' at the end of the season, it seemed our thin hopes were 'lost' and now we all realize just how valuable Roman Polak has been (in his absence making the heart grow fonder), nevertheless I am still strangely hopeful at the prospect of better days ahead.

    If we are truly beginning to believe that our beloved Leafs are showing signs of new life, what better day to find ourselves enjoying the prospect of a resurrected franchise than Easter Sunday?! Not to compare such events (as though each are as significant as the Reason for the day),but it also just happens to be the celebration day upon which I was born in '62 (Easter moves around the calendar, so mine was almost a week later than this year's celebration).

    I arrived 10 minutes before the game started, according to my father's humourous and self-deprecating "prophecy" to the nurses and doctor, that I needed to arrive in time for the game so he could watch it (BTW, he would never have actually left for that reason, so it was great that he got to experience a 'both/and' opportunity).

    Since he couldn't stay with Mom at the hospital in those days, he actually did pick up my sister and go home, so he was able to see most of the game from the 2nd Period on!

    Too bad I didn't start to show an interest until 1968... yet here I am, hopeful for better things as the present iteration of the Leafs grants renewed hope in my favourite pastime!

    Happy Easter, Michael. Hope you have opportunity for some enjoyable family time today... and thanks for taking some time to share your thoughts with us today. I think you're entirely correct in your assessment of teams that aren't really excited about facing our Leafs!

    1. Happy Easter to you as well, InTimeFor62. Your wonderful story of the day you were born, as the Leafs were preparing to win the Cup against the Hawks in the spring of 1962, is a hopeful one at a time when the blue and white are turning a corner, for sure.

      Yes, they'll have to deal with injuries, but that's what good teams do at this time of year. And I dare say the Leafs are now just that- a good team.

  2. Well, now we know what happened Monday night! The breaks (and goal posts) went our way, and the young Leafs are up 2-1. While it's hardly a commanding lead, and each game has been an OT toss-up, the encouraging thing for me is that we haven't been blown out. This isn't a mismatch, as many feared and most prognosticated.
    Whether it's the lack of fear of an underdog, the confidence imbued by the coach, or just the undeterred desire of some highly focussed (and talented) athletes, this run we're on is truly the icing on the cake. This team has progressed so far beyond what I expected, and was prepared to happily accept, that I hardly know what to say. We're seeing skill levels that we haven't seen for a very long time. And I don't know if we've ever seen it spread among so many players. The Leafs of the early 60's come to mind. What do you think, Michael?
    I can say this: no matter what happens in the playoffs, what a year! And, as the song goes, the future's so bright I gotta wear shades!

    1. I think Leaf fans can justifiably feel good now and going forward because we know the team should only get better in the years ahead. There is finally stability in the organization, from ownership (who we rarely hear from, thankfully) through to management, the coaching staff and players. No mention of trades all the time, dissatisfied players, etc. Just a bunch of players who aren't afraid of losing, it seems. And so many of them are "kids", still.

      With regard to your early '60s reference, Gerund, heck, while we both recognize we are talking about very different eras, those Leaf teams did build not only with old-timers and veterans like Bower, Armstrong, Stanley, etc. but also with great kids like Mahovlich, Duff, Nevin, Brewer and Keon (and later Pappin, Ellis and Stemkowski). Those Leaf teams would never have won without the "kids", and this Leaf team wouldn't be where they are without Marner, Matthews, et al.

      If this team continues to grow in confidence, I don't doubt they can play with anyone. Thanks Gerund.