They’re not exactly wide-eyed rookies.
While much will be made of the Toronto Maple Leafs overall youth, and that will become one of the themes of their first-round series with the veteran Boston Bruins, someone like Mikhail Grabovski, for example, is 29.
Clarke MacArthur is 28. And Tyler Bozak, Nikolai Kulemin and Carl Gunnarsson aren’t all that far behind.
Those five Leafs are good examples of the team’s emerging core over the past few years, but on Wednesday heading into Game 1 against the Bruins, they also have something else unique in common.
This will be their first ever taste of the playoffs – and it’s been a painful, 400-plus game wait for some.
“It’s been a long time coming,” said MacArthur, who has been through a long slog of playoff-less years with Buffalo, Atlanta and Toronto. “I can’t wait to get out there and get a piece of it for myself.”
While some admitted to a little nervousness entering their first postseason games – only 10 of the 25 players on the roster have playoffs experience – jitters don’t appear to be an issue for others, with the ever-confident Nazem Kadri going so far as to call the series “very, very winnable” despite so many pundits picking the Bruins.
Leafs coach Randy Carlyle, who has only been behind the bench for two playoff wins in the last three seasons, wasn’t making any such pronouncements on Wednesday, however.
The head coach wasn’t on the ice and Toronto didn’t do any line rushes at the morning skate, something that usually proves a giveaway for what the lineup will be that night.
With Boston’s assistant coaches all watching on, the Leafs weren’t revealing much.
Where Carlyle was particularly enlightening was when he talked about the franchise’s ugly history against the Bruins, which includes winning just twice in their last 13 meetings in Boston.
He acknowledged that the team’s 8-0 loss to the Bruins late last season was a turning point of sorts.
“This is a different group,” Carlyle said. “We’re a much younger group and we’re trying to forge our own identity and not worry about what anyone else has done historically. We have to live now, and we have a task at hand that is a tall one.
“I was here and witnessed the 8-0 shellacking we took last year [in Boston] and we were embarrassed for ourselves and the organization at that point. That was one of the defining moments as a coaching staff and we stated that we had to change what was going on.
“Now, we’re into a new season and this is a whole different ball of wax now that we’re getting into the playoffs. Everybody starts from zero. We know we’re playing a very good hockey club, a veteran club that has been in the wars before. We’re going to respect them, but we’re not going to be in awe of them.”
The one thing that is known about Toronto’s lineup for Game 1 is that James Reimer will start in goal and Bozak will play after sitting out the last two games with an upper-body injury.
Bozak took part in the morning skate and was even taking faceoffs for a long stretch with Kadri, something the team wasn’t certain would be possible only a couple days ago.
“It felt fine,” Bozak said of taking draws. “The true test will be when you get out there and you’re in game mode… I’m going to try as I normally do on the draw.”
“He’s told us that he’s 100-per-cent healthy so we expect him to perform to his capabilities,” Carlyle said.
Marchand - Bergeron - Seguin
Lucic - Krejci – Horton (game-time decision)
Daugavins - Kelly - Jagr
Paille - Campbell - Thornton
Chara - Seidenberg
Ference - Boychuk
Redden - McQuaid
JVR - Bozak - Kessel
Lupul - Grabovski - Kulemin
MacArthur - Kadri - Frattin
Komarov - McClement - Orr
Gunnarsson - Phaneuf
Fraser - Franson
Liles - Kostka