Maple Leafs feeling confident as they prepare for playoff meeting with Boston - InfoNews

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Maple Leafs feeling confident as they prepare for playoff meeting with Boston

Toronto Maple Leafs players take part in a drill during a practice session in Toronto on Monday, April 9, 2018, as the team prepares for their opening playoff round against the Boston Bruins. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
April 09, 2018 - 3:22 PM

TORONTO - James van Riemsdyk didn't see a lot of experience when he looked around the Toronto Maple Leafs' locker room at this time last spring.

After a tough six-game playoff series with the Washington Capitals, where the club's youngsters found out first-hand what playoff hockey in the NHL is all about, he's confident he's going into this post-season with a battle-tested team.

"The fact we had a bunch of young guys going through their first go-around, I think was good and it's something to draw back on," van Riemsdyk said Monday as the Leafs practised in advance of their playoff first-round series against the Boston Bruins.

"We have experience now from guys who hadn't played in the playoffs, being able to manage momentum swings and emotions in the playoffs. Never get too high or too low. Those are the teams that have had success. Learning from that and being able to bring it every game is key."

Head coach Mike Babcock says that the experience gained from last season's playoffs — the team's first with him behind the bench — the addition of some of their own veterans and the improvement he's seen in the young guys has prepared the Maple Leafs for whatever the Bruins have up their sleeve when the series begins in Boston on Thursday.

A young core including Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitchell Marner, Zach Hyman, Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev all got their first taste of playoff hockey last season after barely getting in as the second wild-card team. They did better than expected, giving the first-place Capitals a legitimate scare.

"Last year's playoff run did a lot for us just for confidence," said Brown. "We won't have that shock factor of a first playoff, emotions and all. We're here and really feel we have a team that can go deep."

"I think just how hard it is," Matthews added when asked what he learned from last year. "You get a taste of it. We were going against the top team in the league... Pretty eager to get back in a similar position and go further."

Brown says Toronto isn't intimidated by the veteran Bruins.

"They're good players, but we have good players too. You have to respect them but you don't want to give them too much respect," said Brown.

While inexperience was part of the growing pains for a Toronto squad that finished last in the league two years ago, management decided to add some veterans of their own in the off-season. The Leafs brought in 38-year-old Patrick Marleau, who signed a three-year deal after 18 years with the San Jose Sharks. Marleau has 177 playoff games to his name.

"One of the reasons I came here (was for playoff hockey)," Marleau said. "Looking at this team before the season and seeing the players they had and how management was building, it looked like it would be a good fit. Now playoffs are here and we have to bring it all together."

Babcock says that a season of watching how Marleau approaches the game should motivate his younger players.

"When you see a great players had a great career and done it right all the time you know you can't cheat and you feel guilty when you do," said Babcock. "We don't want slippage, we want guys doing it right and (Marleau's) one of the guys to set the standard high."

Defenceman Ron Hainsey is another veteran the Leafs coach thinks will make a difference against the Bruins after winning the Stanley Cup with the Pittsburgh Penguins last season.

"Hainsey's won the Cup, real good partner for Morgan Rielly but a real good leader on our back end," said Babcock. "He's a calming influence back there, can help out in many ways a coach can't."

Van Riemsdyk is amongst a handful of players still on Toronto's roster from 2013 alongside Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov and Jake Gardiner when the Leafs were eliminated in stunning fashion in seven games by Boston in Round 1, making him one of the only players on last year's squad against Washington with any playoff experience.

Babcock watched Florida beat Boston 4-2 in Sunday's regular-season finale, relegating the Bruins to second place in the Atlantic Division and a first-round date with Toronto.

With the post-season being a clean slate for all 16 teams, he's embracing the matchup against the Bruins.

"It starts all over here now. It's a good opportunity for us. Two good teams. Something has to give," said Babcock. "I like clam chowder so I'm happy to go to Boston."

News from © The Canadian Press, 2018
The Canadian Press

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