Nazem Kadri doesn’t think it will be a problem.
The Leafs centre believes the organization has moved away from the negativity of the past several seasons, and there should be no fear of a letdown during the season’s stretch run.
“I think there’s a lot of adversity we’ve faced and persevered through,” Kadri said, referring to recent Leaf teams, most of whom were never earnest playoff threats. “It’s made us better players and it’s made us better people.”
Leafs coach Mike Babcock, in his daily coach’s scrum after practice Friday, mentioned the veteran core of the Leafs as a group of players who could be more worrisome for the coaching staff than the team’s youngsters in dealing with playoff runs.
That group includes Kadri and fellow veterans Leo Komarov, Tyler Bozak, James van Riemsdyk and Jake Gardiner. All five were part of the club’s collapse against Boston in the first round of the 2013 playoffs, the only time since the 2004-05 lockout the Leafs made the post-season.
“The young guys are all used to winning; they had (success with) the teams they just came from, but the guys you worry about are the guys who have been around here for awhile,” Babcock said. “Those are the guys you want to get used to winning again.”
Kadri doesn’t think the letdown of the 2012-13 playoffs will happen again, given the new chemistry of the club and the leadership of Babcock and his staff. Toronto enters its game against Montreal on Saturday four points out of the Atlantic Division lead but in a pack of teams also vying for the final wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.
These Leafs have developed an almost bullet-proof confidence, in part because of Babcock’s insistence to both play and to live “the right way.”
“If you do good things off the ice, it translates onto the ice,” Kadri said, echoing some of the basic tenets of Babcock’s approach. “If you are a good person, good things will happen.”
Toronto’s remaining 22 games are all against either playoff teams, or teams still vying for that final playoff spot. Even a two-game losing streak can reverse fortunes dramatically.
“Our confidence is great in here,” Kadri said. “We know if we play right, we can hang with the best teams and get points. There’s a positivity knowing we can beat the best teams.”
And there’s a positivity the roster won’t change much as next Wednesday’s trade deadline approaches. While the level of worry never disappears before the deadline, it is less prevalent this year.
“We as players don’t think of that as much when your (team) is in the (playoff) mix,” said van Riemsdyk, whose name has been linked, at least in the media, to trade talk. “Last year, it was a bigger (challenge) for the club to get to the playoffs, but this year, we’re there . . . and you learn through experience not to worry about all those things that are out of your control.”
Van Riemsdyk and linemates Tyler Bozak and Connor Brown were absent from practice Friday, marking the first time in recent memory an entire Leafs line took what is believed to be a maintenance day. They are all expected to play against Montreal.
“I don’t think anyone’s injured, I think everyone is available,” Babcock said, adding that he is looking forward to going up against Montreal coach Claude Julien, an old friend and fellow member of the Canadian Olympic team coaching staff.
“You knew he’d coach again, he’s too good a coach,” Babcock said about Julien, who was fired by the Bruins on Feb. 7 and hired by the Canadiens a week later. “He’s a friend of mine, and it’s always fun to coach against guys like that. He’s a great coach and a great person, and I wish him all the success, just not (Saturday).”
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