Mike Babcock’s post-game comments after a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets, giving the Leafs the President’s Trophy-winning Washington Capitals as their matchup in round one.
Babcock: Obviously, we’re disappointed tonight. I did my best last night trying to lie to you. I was hoping someone might listen. I thought last night was emotional for us. I was hoping we were going to have enough juice tonight to dig in and get it done but we didn’t have much juice. I thought we started okay. Got a power play for four minutes. I thought, after that, they kind of sucked the life out of us. It was disappointing that way. In saying all that, if you had told me at the start that we could be in the situation we are right now, obviously, I would’ve done a little jig. I’m thrilled with the progress of our team. In saying that, we’ve drawn a real good team and we’re going to find out what playoff hockey is in a hurry. We’re going to find out it’s way different than regular season hockey. You may as well figure that out quick. I’ll do my best over the next couple of days to explain what’s going to happen. They’re not going to believe me, and then it’s going to happen.
Have you done much prep work for Washington, or does that start now?
Babcock: I mean, obviously, we played them. I know Trotz pretty good. I just worked with him. That won’t be a problem. We’ll have all that done tomorrow as a coaching staff. The players will have a day off and then we’ll be ready to go and present it to them and get prepared over the next two days. We play Thursday and Saturday in Washington so we’ll travel on Wednesday.
What do you think they will find most surprising about playoff hockey?
Babcock: No space. Zero. Battle for every inch of ice from the opening faceoff to the end.
Do you believe that, whatever happens in these playoffs, it will make the players better next season?
Babcock: 100%. I think it’s a growth opportunity just like this year was. I thought these games that we had to play down the stretch… I just looked at it. We went 14-5-1 to get in. To me, that’s when I started marking a sheet on my desk; you know, started putting everyone’s names up and marking it. To go 14-5-1 in a good league, I think, is real good. A lot of those games were tight, important games for us. I thought we had some hiccups for sure, and yet we still found ways to win games and give ourselves a chance. We’re excited, to say the least. I think we’ll get more excited during the off-day tomorrow and be ready to go.
How much of an advantage is it to have a Brian Boyle, a Polak… guys who have been through it before?
Babcock: Huge. We talked about it last night. I think getting Boyler, for us, was a huge, huge deal. I’m not sure we would’ve gotten in the playoffs without him. Not even the part you see when you see him in the uniform. It’s the part that I see when I see him every day and how he handles himself around the guys and what he says on the bench. Just the calmness he brings, I think, has been exceptional, to say the least. And yet, we didn’t bring him in and give him someone’s job. We didn’t do that. We brought him in here, made him fourth-line center, and continued to play our kids in the process.
There’s not just Alex over there, but how do you handle Ovechkin over a series?
Babcock: There are a whole bunch of them. They’re big, they’re strong, they’re fast. They’ve been beaten a number of times in the playoffs. They’re battle-tested, to say the least, and they’re as hungry as any team in the NHL. It should be fun.
Last time this time was in the playoffs, in game one against Boston, it was like the players had never seen a playoff game before. And then they recovered and have a hell of a series from that point on. Can you recover that quickly?
Babcock: Let’s not do that. Let’s get ready for game one. This is what I’d say: We’re playing a real good team. We like our team. We think we’ve got a good team. We think we’ve got good players. We’ve got lots of kids, and we’ve got lots of inexperienced older players, as well. In saying that, if you want to tip your toe in the water, you’re going to find out it’s boiling. Just jump in. Run down the dock and jump right in, and don’t be putting your foot in the water. You might not get in.