After a 2 a.m. arrival from Florida, Toronto Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle restricted practice to a crisp 35 minutes Friday.
Goalie James Reimer stifled a massive yawn as he sat in his stall in his goalie gear. Carlyle confessed he himself had slept in until 11 a.m., two hours before practice started.
In the wake of back-to-back games in the Sunshine State, the Toronto coach said the workout was designed to “shake the cobwebs out, get the heart flowing, a little bit of a sweat and get ourselves ready.”
The playoffs are coming. To Toronto. For the first time in nine years.
With 47 games under their belt, the Leafs wrap up the regular season Saturday night against the visiting Canadiens. Barring a confluence of other results, the two teams are likely to face off in the first round of the playoffs on Tuesday in Montreal.
Toronto stands fifth in the Eastern Conference with 57 points, four behind fourth-place Montreal.
Should the Leafs beat Montreal in the season finale and the Bruins get one point from their last two outings, Toronto and Montreal will meet in the postseason for the first time since 1979.
A Toronto loss to Montreal coupled with the Senators winning both their remaining games (against Boston and Washington) would vault Ottawa into fifth and pit the Leafs against the Capitals. The Bruins, battling the Habs for the Northeast Division lead, are also a possible opponent for Toronto.
Carlyle seemed unconcerned about the permutations.
“We’ve got business to take care of [Saturday] night and that’s the Montreal Canadiens in our building.”
But he knows what works and what doesn’t for his 26-16-5 squad.
“We know we can compete with good teams if we play our game to our level,” he said. “When we stray away from it, we’re very, very ordinary or less than ordinary.”
While playoff-starved Toronto fans are salivating over a possible Saturday-night Canadiens appetizer before a Montreal playoff main course, Carlyle was anything but giddy, although he did acknowledge the historic rivalry. He stressed that no matter the opponent or circumstances, the team will not stray from its “template.”
“When everything changes around you,” Carlyle said, “it doesn’t change what you do inside that [dressing] room. Our preparation is going to be very, very strict and structured, as it has been all the way through. We’re not going to change what we’re doing because it’s important that we all understand our roles and what our expectations [are] of our players in certain situations and our team in certain situations.”
Leafs first-line centre Tyler Bozak, who missed Thursday night’s game against the Panthers, did not take part in practice. Carlyle said he had no immediate word on Bozak’s availability, citing his own late rising.
At this time of the year,” Carlyle said, “I don’t really tell anybody what I’m doing. Only the players.”
Nazem Kadri took Bozak’s place in practice between Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul, as he did in Thursday night’s 4-0 win over the Panthers.
If the playoff dance partner is Montreal, the Leafs can take comfort in the knowledge that they have won three of four against the Habs going into Saturday’s season finale. That included lopsided 6-0 and 5-1 wins, with Toronto chasing goalie Carey Price in the latter. The Leafs also posted a 2-1 victory while Montreal scored a 5-2 win in the other meeting.
Asked why Toronto has held an edge, Lupul said: “We’re physically a lot bigger and stronger. They have a lot of speed and skill and Price is a difference-maker. I know he’s a little bit off his game right now, but I would expect him to find it. He’s a competitive guy.”
“But our thing is getting pucks in deep on them. Finish checks, especially on lots of the smaller, skilled players. Over a long series, that pays off. And we’re not completely sure it’s going to be Montreal. We’ll see how things play out. But certainly we want to play [Saturday] and go into the playoffs continuing to play well, against them.”