Mike Babcock addressed the media after his team’s practice on Friday the morning after his team’s 4-1 win to open the series against the Boston Bruins.
As you react from Game 1 to Game 2, is it better to be proactive than reactive and was that the case for last night as your guys took it to the other team?
Babcock: I think the biggest thing is that game is over with and we’ve got to get ready for the next game. As the series goes on, the games get better and better and you have to prepare better and be ready because there is going to be another level if you want to win Game 2. That’s our focus. The game you’re playing is the most important one. We’re going to be ready for it and it should be a heck of a game.
There was so much talk about matchups and it seemed like last night you got the matchups you wanted as the road team.
Babcock: That’s because that’s what they wanted. They wanted the same matchup and in the end, it just happened to work out in the short term for us.
How rare is that?
Babcock: I don’t know. That’s why you need depth on teams in the playoffs because often times your big guys cancel out their big guys and the teams with the most depth play longer because other guys pick them up. Last night, it went for us. On the backend, we used four guys there in that situation. Their line is really good and their good players. I don’t know what their plan is for tomorrow. I am not going to spend a lot of time worrying about that. We’ll just be ready at game time.
You guys did a good job with that Bergeron line. Is the challenge doing that night after night?
Babcock: One game is done, right? Now it is about Game 2. We are going to just try to get better with each game. As we see things they do, we’ll adjust and try to get better. I’d imagine they’re doing exactly the same thing. To me, that doesn’t win always digs in and gets ready for the next game. As the team that has won, you’ve got to do the same or you are going to be left behind.
When Frederik Andersen was going through his difficult March, was there a level of concern that he might not come out the other side as quickly as he did?
Babcock: I think, with all of us when we are going through some adversity in life, what you do is you try to dig in to make it as short as possible. Everyone likes feeling good in everything you do. That is life. You want your ups to be longer than your downs. If you dig in and dig in every day, you don’t end up with downs that are that long. Freddy is a guy we trust. He is a guy who is a real leader on our team, who works hard, and who is proud of what he does. Obviously, he wanted to get his game back. He was good last night.
Auston Matthews’ line got more of that Bergeron line late. He didn’t see him a ton in the playoffs last year. What is the challenge for him there?
Babcock: I mean, that wasn’t their matchup, so that’s why they didn’t see him. The bottom line is we set Matthews’ line against Barkov when Florida came in. We did that down the stretch to prepare for these opportunities. The bottom line is you’ve got to stay patient. Lots of times, when you are a good player, you don’t score right away in the playoffs and it doesn’t look like it’s going good. People are evaluating you. Don’t worry about what anyone thinks. Just do your job and in the end, it will go your way. Be patient with what you are doing and grind. Work.
Bruce Cassidy compared Mitch Marner to Wayne Gretzky when he talked about his speed and the way he eludes people. Do you see that comparison?
Babcock: Yeah, I don’t see anything. Mitch is a good young player.
How do you rate last night as a team effort among the games you’ve seen here as a coach?
Babcock: Well, we won a game. We’ve won lots of games since I’ve been here, though.
As a complete team effort…
Babcock: We’ve played a lot of complete games since I’ve been here. Lots of nights were good. Obviously, because it is a playoff game, it is the first game where we are playing and it gets more attention. But we’ve played lots of good hockey over the last three years.
Will it take a while to figure out exactly how you want to use Jake Muzzin and you’re starting to get a feel for how to use him best?
Babcock: Any time you get a new player, you don’t know for sure. I’ve coached Muzz before, so I had a pretty good handle on him, but until you get him here and until you figure it out… But it wasn’t just about Muzz. It was about our group and doing the best for him. I thought those guys played real well and real hard last night. They seem to have a good pairing. Muzz is a guy who has done a lot of winning and understands what it takes and how to be a good pro. He is a real good team guy. He is very competitive, very confident. Good man.
You had three pretty good pairings going, did you not?
Babcock: We thought so. Gards is obviously just coming back and has been off for a long time. Dermy is just coming back. We think that pair can be way better.
It seems like their success is based on those nice neat gaps they had with the forwards and the ability to break out as quickly and as efficiently as they did.
Babcock: Yeah, we went bad there in the second period for a little bit. We were punting quite a bit and they were coming back at us. That wasn’t a strong section for us, but for the majority of the game, we did a good job of that.
Bruce Cassidy on Game 2 adjustments
On the Leafs‘ ability to stretch the ice out:
Toronto getting behind us was addressed for three days. Johnsson got behind us early. Obviously, the Nylander goal. We’ll have to continue to send that message. That is on the staff to make sure it gets through. And then it’s how aggressive to be because of that. Our puck management — players, to me, have always been responsible for effort and execution. They control that as soon as they go over the boards. Part of our execution wasn’t good enough with the puck last night in our decision-making. We talked about appropriate risk-reward. Those are the two biggest things.
There are other parts of our game — a little more urgency, a little more physicality, cleaner breakouts. Some of that goes to effort and some of that goes to execution. Those are probably the three biggest areas. That’s what we talked about this morning and worked on a little bit in practice. Let’s hope we carry it over.
On Jake DeBrusk’s status:
Jake was given a maintenance day and he’ll be back with us, we assume, tomorrow morning. If he’s not feeling well, we’ll have to put Backes in and juggle the lines around, but right now, we anticipate he’ll play.
On whether David Backes will enter the lineup regardless:
I thought about going with Backes in Game 1, but we made the decision that we have to check fast against Toronto. There are two ways to slow them down… They’re a fast team, and you can physically slow them down, or you can skate with them to slow them down. I thought we’d do a better job checking with our legs skating than we did last night. What I mean by that is them getting behind us and them coming through the neutral zone with speed. There were times where we did a real good job of it and our legs were good on the forecheck. Other times, they weren’t. Obviously, David adds a physicality piece. We will have an internal discussion as to whether that is a better plan of action.