His face is more weathered, his hair thinner and the miles of 17 years of pro hockey there for all to see.
But that was Wade Redden all right, in the Boston Bruins dressing room before the game and discussing what appeared to be his least favourite hockey topic of them all.
The Toronto Maple Leafs being back in the playoffs.
“It’s been quite a while,” Redden said quietly before his Bruins met the Leafs in Game 1 on Wednesday night. “Lot goes on in a decade, that’s for sure.”
Yes, a lot certainly has gone on since Redden was that fresh-faced 20-something defenceman for the Ottawa Senators, a second-overall pick who was on the blueline for the wrong end of so many losses to the Leafs roughly a decade ago.
But this time – with a different team and in what seems like a different hockey life – he exacted some revenge.
Playing in just his seventh game as a Bruin, Redden proved the unlikely hero in Game 1, scoring an early tying goal and following that up with an assist on Nathan Horton’s winner a few minutes later as Boston went on to a lopsided 4-1 victory.
After a promising start for the Leafs – with James van Riemsdyk putting them up 1-0 less than two minutes in on the power play – the fact it was a former Senator who provided the spark to turn the game the other way seemed appropriate.
At least the hockey gods have a sense of humour.
"I've been away for a while so it was good to get back out there," Redden said. "It's been a long road... a lot of uncertainties. But I kept working and kept believing and it's great to be here now."
“That first goal was huge,” Bruins defenceman Andrew Ference said. “Got the bench really going and the building.”
As has been the case all season, Toronto had huge difficulty managing the puck in its first playoff appearance in nine years, gifting the Bruins chance after chance after taking that early lead.
The Leafs were outshot 15-7 in the first and ultimately 40-20 overall, continuing a trend where they were out chanced roughly 2-to-1 in an ugly two week stretch to close the year despite finding ways to win as netminder James Reimer came up big.
The main culprits were on the back end, where Mark Fraser and Mike Kostka – career minor leaguers coming into this season – turned back into pumpkins for a night as they gifted Boston several key opportunities.
Fraser, in particular, was guilty of looking out of place and has been fading for much of the season’s second half. On one sequence midway through the second period with Toronto desperately hanging in at one goal back, he sent a giveaway up the middle of the ice, fell down and struggled to get back into a play that culminated with Bruins centre David Krejci whipping the puck through Reimer’s pads to make it 3-1.
Five minutes later, Bruins defenceman Johnny Boychuk blasted a bullet from far out for a three-goal lead that put the game away with 24 minutes still to play.
“I just thought we self-destructed,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. “We had a decent start, scored the first goal of the game, got ourselves on the right track. I thought we had our fore-check going early in the game and then we just stopped.”
“We’ve got to do a better job of getting some offensive zone time and making it tougher on their defence,” defenceman Cody Frason added. “We made it too easy for them tonight.”
Making matters worse for Toronto, several players suffered injuries throughout what was a hit-filled game, with Tyler Bozak, Joffrey Lupul, Mikhail Grabovski and Franson all getting attention from trainers at various points.
Franson’s foot, in particular, looked worse for wear after the game, and he was walking with a pronounced limp after taking a shot off his skate early in the game.
“It’s a little sore,” Franson said. “But it’ll be all right.”
At least one of the many hits the Bruins laid will catch the eye of NHL disciplinarian Brendan Shanahan, as Ference could very well be suspended for an ugly first-period elbow to Grabovski’s head.
That would then mean bigger minutes for someone like Redden, who the Bruins acquired at the trade deadline from St. Louis for a conditional seventh round pick that became a sixth rounder after he played a single playoff game.
That, obviously, came in Game 1 and proved a wise investment for GM Peter Chiarelli already.
“I was really happy for him,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said, who noted they were working to rebuild Redden’s confidence after the long road that took him through two seasons in the minors before a buyout allowed him to resurrect his career this season. “He’s a player who has been through some rough times.”
Redden may ultimately be only a bit player in the series, but his presence is just another example of the breadth of experience throughout Boston’s lineup.
After also adding Jaromir Jagr at the deadline, the Bruins brought an incredible 1,273 playoff games into this series, roughly six times the green Leafs (206), half of whom got into their first-ever postseason action on Wednesday night.
That contrast was evident all game, too, as while Toronto often appeared skittish and uncertain with the puck, Boston settled into the game after a tenuous start and looked like the far better team.
For all the talk of the Bruins fading down the stretch after winning just twice in their last nine games, Wednesday looked like a veteran club flicking a switch and firing up the kind of playoff attitude the franchise has been known for since winning the Stanley Cup in bruising fashion two years ago.
While no one’s mistaking them for that club after just one win over a young and overmatched Leafs team, they did serve notice they have no intention of fading away quietly.
And that’s very bad news for Toronto’s return to the playoffs after nearly a decade away.
“Obviously it’s a learning experience and we’re going to be better next time,” Leafs winger James van Riemsdyk said. “We learned a lot about our team and what we need to do to improve.”
“This series is not over,” Lupul said defiantly after the game. “There is plenty of belief in here.”Report Typo/Error