Taking a Breath
TAMPA--Step one, take a day off.
Step two, stay off the ice.
That's the early formula for the Maple Leafs after clinching a playoff berth Saturday night in Ottawa, one that probably makes a lot of sense.
For starters, the club has played 45 games in 91 days, a grinding pace, one shared by every other NHL club. So with no games until Wednesday when they face the Lightning, some time off skates makes sense.
Second, while the Leafs don't have any injuries per se, at least none keeping players out of the lineup, it's a chance to do a little healing.
Finally, this is a team that the closer it got to the playoffs, the tighter it seemed to grip the sticks, and the more it seemed to play a retreat, rope-a-dope style game. Getting away from the rink for a couple of days may ease the tension, although you can bet it will return later this week and certainly next week when the playoffs begin.
So head coach Randy Carlyle has ordered off-ice workouts only today, with media availability later this morning. Carlyle has clearly already begun calibrating his approach for the post-season, and he can do so as Leaf coach without having to consider the extensive travel schedule he had to deal with when he coached the Anaheim Ducks.
Hired by Anaheim in 2005, Carlyle took the club to the playoffs in five of six seasons before being fired partway through last season. Under Carlyle, the club played in 11 playoff series, winning six. The Ducks never played the Kings, with their closest opponent being the Sharks, about 590 kilometres away. Otherwise it was Calgary or Edmonton or Vancouver or Dallas, with rest and hydration key elements of post-season preparation to adjust to travel and multiple time zone changes.
Compared to that, any Leaf playoff trail will be a walk in the park in terms of travel. As it stands, every possible Leaf opponent in the Eastern Conference is within a two-hour flight and within the same time zone.