Kukla's Korner Hockey
“I don’t care when you peak or any of that stuff, I just want to get in the playoffs to give ourselves a chance.
“We’re playing better right now and finding a way to win games and that’s what we have to continue to do. Last year, I didn’t look at the standings one time (when the Leafs finished 30th overall in the National Hockey League) and now I look at it every single day. Obviously, there must be a reason to look at them.”
-Mike Babcock, head coach of the Toronton Maple Leafs. Terry Koshan of the Toronto Sun has more.
from Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun,
On the warm Buffalo evening last summer that Auston Matthews was selected first overall by the Maple Leafs in a boo-filled KeyBank Center, a small pocket of Toronto fans sitting in the stands proudly showcased their T-shirts emblazoned with the words “Auston 20:16.”
“He’s going to be our saviour!” one of them yelled, trying to have his voice heard over the loud jeers of the locals who were anti-anything-Toronto-related.
Truth be told, the loyal sports-loving zealots of Buffalo have plenty of legitimate fodder to despise The Big Smoke when it comes to the world of fun and games....
One year later, the Sabres wined and dined free-agent coach Mike Babcock and were so encouraged at their chances to land the former Detroit Red Wings bench boss that preliminary plans were in place to introduce him to Buffalo media.
But a last-minute change of heart left the Sabres as the jilted bride waiting at the altar while Babcock, citing family reasons, opted for Toronto’s ground-breaking eight-year, $50-million offer, one believed to be similar to that tabled by Buffalo.
Then came the coup de grace in 2016, when Matthews was picked by the rival Leafs right on Buffalo soil. For Sabres supporters, this was the deepest cut of all.
For boarding, here is the explanation from the NHL.
from Rob Vollman at NHL.com,
There's a fierce battle for the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Boston Bruins hold the second wild card with 82 points, followed by the New York Islanders, who have 80 points and a game in hand. Each team trails the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are third in the Atlantic Division with 83 points with 10 games remaining.
If the standings remain this way, Toronto will make the playoffs for the second time since 2003-04, Boston will end a two-season absence, and New York will miss the playoffs for the first time in three seasons.
The Bruins and Maple Leafs have an edge in the standings and in most statistical categories, but neither team is out of the woods yet. The Islanders have been one of the NHL's best offensive teams since Doug Weight replaced Jack Capuano as coach Jan. 17, and the Tampa Bay Lightning, who are five behind the Bruins with 77 points, are one of several teams within striking distance if some should fade down the stretch.
Let's break down the numbers behind each team's key advantage.
Polak received 5 for boarding a game.
What's the secret to the recent success of the Toronto Maple Leafs?
Craig Custance: Coach Mike Babcock and rookie scorer Auston Matthews definitely deserve a big dose of credit, but one thing I don't think the Toronto Maple Leafs get enough credit for is the quality veterans kept to surround the impressive rookie class. Nazem Kadri might be the best example of that. He scored his 30th goal of the season on Wednesday against the Blue Jackets, and his line was great. Suddenly the Maple Leafs have a pair of 30-goal centers. That's impressive. A layer of veterans in James van Riemsdyk, Kadri and Leo Komarov is often an overlooked part of a rebuild, and if we're looking for reasons beyond Babcock and Matthews, I'd start there.
Pierre LeBrun: After a 3-2 overtime win over the Carolina Hurricanes almost two weeks ago, a game that wasn't very pretty to watch, Babcock called it a "thing of beauty" the next day. His message? His team had limited the Hurricanes to five scoring chances. That's what he cares about. Consider their last three daunting opponents: Chicago Blackhawks, Boston Bruins and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Leafs picked up five out of six points from that dance card. That's what real playoff teams do. But more telling is how they played defensively. They did a better job protecting the puck, not forcing plays, making safer decisions. You see, it just might be that Babcock, who should be a finalist for the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year, has managed to finally teach his young offensive thoroughbreds that not every shift has to be about glory. The Leafs are 6-1-1 in their last eight and third in the Atlantic Division, and look very much like a club that's playoff-bound.
more views from the ESPN hockey crew...
from Chris Johnston of Sportsnet,
With this playoff push growing more tense and exciting by the day, it is widely being painted as on-the-job training for Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and friends.
But from the philosophical locker stall in the corner, where a quiet intensity burns like an ember from Boyle, this is about much more than that. All he sees are the 11 games left on the schedule following Monday’s 4-2 victory over Boston and the chance to go on a playoff run now.
“You’re not automatically going to be a better team from one year until the next,” said Boyle, with the wisdom of a veteran among rookies. “I learned that. We had a great year my first year in Tampa, we kind of struggled the next year and we picked it up (in the playoffs), and then this past year you look what happens and a bunch of guys get moved.
“It wasn’t where we thought we’d be.”
This wasn’t where many figured the Leafs would be, either, back when Matthews scored four goals on opening night in a game his team still managed to lose. The expectations were non-existent in November, grew steadily through December, January and February and dipped again as recently as last week following a 7-2 loss in Florida.
Yet here we had the young Leafs navigating playoff-like conditions in back-to-back games while grabbing three out of a possible four points from Boston and Chicago.
An aricle about the Calder race, I enjoyed this more...
from Michael Traikos at the Toronto Sun,
Toronto may or may not be the best hockey market in the world, but it’s certainly the biggest. There’s strength in numbers, with more reporters covering the sport here than in any other place in the NHL. Because of that, the daily plight of the team’s seventh defenceman often receives more attention than star forwards in some other markets.
So when there is a genuinely good player to talk about, such as Matthews or Mitch Marner or William Nylander, the rest of the world hears about them. Ad nauseam.
But does that help Matthews’ chances of beating Laine for the Calder Trophy? Or might it actually hurt him?
“I am a little sick of hearing about him,” Postmedia hockey reporter Jim Matheson, who covers the Edmonton Oilers, said in an email. “But I think people in Toronto are trying too hard to inform us how special he is.”
“Look, you can't escape the Toronto hype machine,” wrote Ottawa-based Postmedia hockey columnist Bruce Garrioch in a direct message on Twitter. “That's just the reality of Matthews being in a big market. But the amount of press a guy gets won't have any weight in how I fill out the ballot box.”
“I do think Toronto writers have gone completely nuts, but I don't really blame them, given what they've had to watch the last decade,” said Jason Brough, a Vancouver-based writer for NBC’s ProHockey Talk. “At any rate, it won't affect my vote one way or the other. Laine gets plenty of attention himself.”
from Mike Zeisberger of the Toronto Sun,
Imagine being a wee lad of two, gathered with your brothers and sisters on a staircase watching your father kneeling on the downstairs floor, attempting in vain to revive your lifeless infant sibling while your mom is shrieking in horror.
Imagine being a teenager, just 14 years of age, and being informed that cancer is eating away at your dad — only to subsequently have him shock his doctors with the type of unbelievable recovery you still refer too as “a miracle.”
Then imagine, for a moment, that as a recently married man, you find out that a close friend — someone who had been in your wedding party and a kindred sprit you considered to be “like a little brother” — had suddenly drowned, just hours after hosting a charity event.
Brian Boyle does not have to imagine these things. He’s lived them. All of them.
Toronto's Nikita Zaitsev takes the puck off the side of his head and the puck goes into the net.
About Kukla's Korner Hockey
Paul Kukla founded Kukla’s Korner in 2005 and the site has since become the must-read site on the ‘net for all the latest happenings around the NHL.
From breaking news to in-depth stories around the league, KK Hockey is updated with fresh stories all day long and will bring you the latest news as quickly as possible.
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