Player and coach interviews after Friday’s practice.
Babcock: I thought Tampa was better than us last night. I thought they were quicker. They won more races, more battles. And I thought we were tight. We went through the process of going through what happened in last night’s game and cleaning it up and preparing for tomorrow’s games, and at the same time understanding it’s all about us. You can’t play the game when you’re not loose and driving, so let’s be prepared. You don’t have to think about hockey for the next day and a half. You’re going to be ready. Don’t worry about that. You can get ready during the national anthem that way, and come out and play. It should be a lot of fun for us.
What’s the moment mean, do you think, to this young group? Got the Stanley Cup champs coming in with a chance to clinch.
Babcock: I don’t know how much the Stanley Cup champs part means, but I do know this: We worked hard all year long to set ourselves up for these opportunities. We’re in a great spot at game #81, so we’re set up good. Let’s play like we can. That, to me, is the biggest thing – get out there and play like we can.
How do you get better structure-wise in your own zone to get everything facilitated the other way?
Babcock: We talked about that, too. We’ve got to play quicker.
At this stage of your career, Mike, do you ever feel nervous before a game?
Babcock: I think what you do is you relish the opportunities that you feel like that. I think it’s real important to feel like that. You shouldn’t be in the sport if you don’t. I think any competitor in games that are exciting that way – it’s good for you. I think it’s real good for our guys. It’s no different than being on the tees at the Masters. When step up there, you’ve got to clear your mind and hit the ball. If there is momentary doubt, you push through it and you hit it down the middle and get ready for your next shot. Same thing here in hockey. Play your shift, come back, take a deep breath, get a drink of water, and play your next one.
When the season began on October 10th, if you were to look ahead and say you’d be in this position right now, you’d take it?
Babcock: I think that’s what we’ve talked about a lot. Each segment, we kept saying to ourselves, “okay, we’re in it. We’re in it.” You try to be in it, and now we’re in it here again. So, we want to finish the job. What I like about this opportunity is we have to earn our way in. No one is giving it to you. You’ve got to earn your way in. That’s what it’s all about. It’s having these opportunities to grow your game in moments that matter. They’ve all had these opportunities at different levels, just not at this level. So, let’s look after business.
Can they draw on those, Mike?
Babcock: I think a little bit. I think what you’ve got to do is trust the guys in the room, trust your structure, and you’ve got to come out and compete. You can’t let your nerves get in the way. That’s part of just growing up.
Seeing the expectations from the fans in this market, is there any pressure on the team to get that playoff spot, considering this team hasn’t been there in so long?
Babcock: I think you can. You could go home and you could watch you guys all days long if you wanted to. What I would suggest is you watch the hunting channel. They don’t cover anything on the Leafs. I’d go out for a nice dinner and I’d get a nice sleep and I’d come in tomorrow and I’d go home and watch the hunting channel. I’d go to sleep and then come back… no, on the country music radio they don’t talk about hockey. You know what’s going on around you, and you want to do a real good job for the fans and the city of Toronto and all of those things, but these guys want to win for them, too. I think that’s the priority.
Does the youth of this team have anything to do with what happened yesterday?
Boyle: No, there are 18 skaters. For whatever reason, we didn’t match the intensity. I think we have very good structure. We know how to play our systems. This time of year, usually teams are executing their systems pretty well. It’s a little bit more compete. It’s a little bit more things that aren’t Xs and Os at this time. I think we learned a little bit of a lesson last night, but we still have a great opportunity.
Did you say anything in the team meeting today?
Boyle: No, we just went over some video today. The coach handles that.
So you didn’t say anything to your teammates after the game last night, or?
Boyle: I think guys are always communicating. We have a good group of guys that communicate. There are plenty of leaders in here. All you guys want to talk about is the young guys. There are plenty of leaders in here and guys that have had success in their careers and know how to win games. We’ve won games all year long. I came in, obviously, just a month ago, but we’re in a great spot here for a reason.
What will hold the club in good stead tomorrow as you get ready for a big game? What do you like about its dynamic emotionally that tells you it’s ready to play and hopefully make the next step?
Boyle: What a great opportunity for us to play against the defending champs. We’re on home-ice for a great chance to clinch a playoff spot. It’s a great challenge for us and we should be really excited about it.