The Toronto Maple Leafs’ season has come down to one game, and head coach Mike Babcock wants his players to embrace the situation.
Toronto earned a 3-1 home win over the Boston Bruins on Monday night to tie their best-of-seven NHL opening series 3-3. The Leafs will head into the deciding contest Wednesday night (7:30 p.m. ET, CBC) at TD Garden having registered two straight victories.
“Our opportunity here is we’ve crawled our way back to be in the series,” Babcock told reporters Tuesday at the Leafs practice facility before departing for Boston. “You want to be players, you want to be coaches, you want to be management that’s known for getting it done and in order to do that you’ve got to get it done.
“It should be a lot of fun, let’s embrace it. We’d like to play in the next round, Boston wants to play in the next round. Something has to give.”
Babcock said forward Leo Komarov is healthy enough to return to Toronto’s lineup. But Babcock expects to wait until Wednesday morning before deciding the veteran’s status.
The Maple Leafs kept their Stanley Cup hopes alive, winning Game 6 and forcing a decisive Game 7 back in Boston on Wednesday.0:45
“He’s now in a position he could go,” Babcock said. “My big question is it’s going fast out there and you haven’t played.”
Komarov suffered a lower-body injury in Game 2 and hasn’t played since.
Toronto has rallied from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits in the series, which defenceman Jake Gardiner feels puts the pressure squarely on the Bruins on Wednesday night.
“When we were down 3-1, I don’t think anyone expected us to come back,” he said. “And now that we’re here, it’s a good opportunity.”
Toronto has won at TD Garden in the series, claiming a 4-3 decision there Saturday in Game 5. But the win didn’t come easily the Leafs led 4-1 in the second, then held on as Boston outshot the visitors 20-5 in the third.
Vindication for Gardiner
Still, the victory was vindication of sorts for Gardiner, who was with Toronto five years ago when it blew a 4-1 third-period lead in dropping a 5-4 decision to Boston in the seventh game of that first-round series.
“In both scenarios we were down 3-1 and came back,” Gardiner said. “Just have fun with it, the pressure is kind of off us.
“We’re going to be going into that building, it’s going to be rocking and we’ll be ready to go.”
In a one-game scenario, Babcock said the approach becomes a simple one.
“As the series goes on and as the playoffs go on, the games dummy down,” he said. “What I mean by that is it’s just simplified.
“Simple plays and spend as much time in the offensive zone as you possibly can are what you want to do. Little things like winning faceoffs and taking care of the puck are so important. What we’re going to ask of each guy is to do their individual part. Know your job and do it.”
Andersen made 32 saves as the Maple Leafs beat the Boston Bruins 3-1, forcing a game 7 Wednesday in Boston.2:00
Toronto defenceman Morgan Rielly said the team that executes best will enhance its chances of advancing.
“I think that’s what happens typically in these games,” he said. “Both teams know one another pretty well, both teams have a pretty good idea of what the other team brings.
“It’s just a matter of going out there and being motivated and being competitive and executing.”
Babcock agreed, although Toronto should also be a confident bunch coming off the consecutive wins.
“In the National Hockey League any time it’s not going your way you’ve got to dig your way back,” Babcock said. “I think because we had a foundation of confidence and were a good team we were able to do that.
“Saying that, it’s a brand new slate, here you go. The puck’s going to get dropped and who’s going to execute early and get on top of the other team? I think that’s one of the keys in Game 7 for me. I think our guys — I don’t think, I know — are excited.”
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