Playoff Hockey in Toronto
Holy-canoly the Leafs are in the playoffs and the city is going to go bonkers.
The Toronto Maple Leafs will play in the post season for the first time in nine years. According to the WeWantACup handy-dandy playoff ticker, the last Maple Leafs playoff game was played 3281 days ago. Regimes changed, graduations, political uprisings, and so much more. Two NHL lockouts have come and left, and finally the day will come.
General manager Dave Nonis, head coach Randy Carlyle, captain Dion Phaneuf, goaltender James Reimer, and former general manager Brian Burke deserve the most credit for steam rolling this team, which many thought would finish in the basement, into a playoff spot. It is not as if they barely squeaked in to an eighth or seventh spot, they clinched the fifth spot in the Eastern Conference.
Expectations seem to be low. A mere playoff spot has labelled this season a success, and a first round or second round win will likely be labelled a bonus. The Leafs are still very much a young team, and the most important lesson they must learn from this experience is what it takes to be a consistent playoff team. Whether or not they receive an early exit, they need to ensure that they are once again contenders next season and that this season was not just a fluke.
Leafs Playoff Lineup
Some of the questions that arise amidst the playoff talk is regarding how the Maple Leafs lineup will look in the playoffs. Will Tyler Bozak be healthy enough to play? Will Coach Carlyle leave the “two goons” theory? Is there a spot for Jake Gardiner? Here is my mock Leafs playoff lineup:
L1: James van Reimsdyk – Tyler Bozak – Phil Kessel
L2: Joffrey Lupul – Nazem Kadri – Nikolai Kulemin
L3: LClarke MacArthur – Mikhail Grabovski – Leo Komarov
L4: Jay McClement – Joe Colborne – Colton Orr
Extras: Matt Frattin, Ryan Hamilton, Frazer McLaren
D1: Carl Gunnarsson – Dion Phaneuf
D2: Mark Fraser – Cody Franson
D3: John-Michael Liles – Ryan O’byrne
Extras: Mike Kostka, Jake Gardiner
James Reimer – Ben Scrivens
Although there is some concern regarding the health of Tyler Bozak and Clarke MacArthur with their mysterious “upper body injuries,” both should be healthy enough to play regularly in the playoffs. Players often play with injuries in the playoffs, so this should not come as a surprise. The same goes for defenseman Carl Gunnarson, who has been battling a nagging hip injury all year.
People should not come to conclusions that Colton Orr and Frazer McLaren will not be played in the playoffs. The duo have been titled as “Randy’s Goons,” and I doubt that he decides to bench both of them. I have a good feeling you’ll see one of them dressed on a regular basis.
Some Leafs fans are deeply angered with Coach Carlyle’s vigilance about giving young defenseman Jake Gardiner playing time. This likely won’t change in the playoffs, since the chances of Gardiner ousting the veteran John Liles on defense is not high. I’ve said on Twitter numerous times that the key to creating a regular spot for Gardiner will not come if Liles is on the team. Having both in the lineup is not doable, especially since neither can play with Dion Phaneuf or Cody Franson. This is a situation that will be assessed in the off-season by the organization.
Mike Kostka has been paired on the right side of the third defense pairing for the last week. It was an interesting move from Coach Carlyle, leading some to believe he may be higher on the depth chart than newly acquired Ryan O’byrne. If it were up to me, and its not, I would slot the more experienced O’byrne on the third pairing. He has played in 19 playoff games, thanks to his days in Montreal. While on the other hand, Kostka is still the 27 year old rookie that was a feel good story when he cracked the team out of training camp.
One position we know there won’t be much shuffling is that of the goaltender. James Reimer has more than won the stripes of the starting goalie in Toronto this season and he will be rewarded with the outright number one job in the playoffs. He deserves it, and has been the most riveting reason behind the Leafs back in the playoffs in 2013.
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