After practice on Tuesday, Paul Maurice discussed his team winning all three of its overtime games this playoff, the matchup game against Toronto’s top players, and the unsung heroes on his roster during their current six-game playoff winning streak.
Toronto’s top players are taking a lot of heat right now, but there are two sides to every story. What do you like about how your top guys have approached this series and what they have done?
Maurice: What I like is that I can truly sit up here and give you a whole bunch of different names. That Lundell line has been really good.
The change in the lineup came off of the Lomberg injury prior to Game 5 of the Boston series. In a very short period of time, what it has done for our hockey team is let us not worry about the match. I am not hiding that line. I would run them against Bergeron or Coyle or Krejci or Zacha in the middle.
Toronto is going to put out three pretty dominant lines. If Lundell is on the ice, I am good with that match.
That is a name we don’t talk about much. I understand that, too. He is a young kid that had to learn the game over the course of the year. He is a much better player now than he was two or three months ago.
We aren’t as deep as the teams that we have played, but we have some really nice stories of guys whose names don’t get out there as much and who have been really important to us.
The team has won all three overtime games this playoff. What have you noticed about the team’s mentality, toughness, or attitude that helps you be so successful in OT?
Maurice: I would just say it comes from watching, not necessarily knowing going into them. We are going out there to win. We are going to try to play smart. I am not talking about five guys on the forecheck. We are going out there to win.
The mistake is not as devastating of a thought as [Reinhart] being a rockstar after that one. There is a way better payoff for being right.
If you lose the game, you lose the game. If you got it to overtime, you probably played a pretty good game in the playoffs. Just go have some fun.
The group has not lacked confidence during these playoffs. Does a personality like Matthew Tkachuk make it impossible for everyone else not to feel some of the confidence rub off?
Maurice: It just has to be the truth. There is no sense in walking around confident when you have no reason to be confident. At the same time, people can feel the truth.
We have had some grumbly days here — some hard days — and then the truth is what happened last game is going to have nothing to do with what happens tomorrow. There is no sense in getting overly excited about that one, either.
We’re pretty even-keeled, but we are in a good mood. We have had our dark days here.
When you look at how the top pairing has really shut down the Maple Leafs…
Maurice: I am not answering this question. I can tell right before I am not answering this question.
How big is Gus Forsling’s impact on the defensive end?
Maurice: That is the driver that got him into the league. We have so many guys here who had to fight their way into the league that weren’t drafted and given the job. We have a lot of impactful people who are off waivers or were the small end of the trade — not the driver of the trade — who have come in and been players.
He gets in the league, and he knows that he can shoot a puck and get up the ice, but he is not getting on the ice for that. He is getting on the ice for his stick, his ability to close, and his defensive reads. That has made him who he is.
You can tell. We have played more road games than home games. When we are not getting the match, it is not as hard of a match as you think it has in this series because Montour and Staal have played against the high-end guys on both teams.
Boston and Toronto are really similar. They are rolling out a really, really good player in that top nine, and then their fourth line is the identity line with the Nosek line or the Kampf identity line. Whether you are rolling Hall out there in the three hole with a Hart Trophy, you are getting a good player on every one of their lines.
Coming into the team as their coach this season, the Panthers were President’s Trophy winners. What was the challenge like of convincing them to change in order to have playoff success?
Maurice: I got two kind of drivers in this one. One is Bill Zito, who did more than just change the coach with that mentality. We have to play a different game than we have played.
The other is the willingness. They said yes. It got a little tough there in November-December. That is where the line was kind of drawn in the sand that we were doing this. The players were good about it. I think they understood.
I thought they played great a few years ago against Tampa. They were outstanding in that first round, but I think they knew there were some things they needed to fix. There was a big chunk of this team that left.
With Duclair out, five of the top nine forwards are gone. We brought good guys back, but Huberdeau’s skill level… He is a really good player, and Giroux is a really good player. Marchment scored a bunch of goals here. Duclair was out of the lineup. Hubderdeau was gone.
We were going to have to change anyway. We weren’t looking like last year even before somebody came in. Weegar goes, Chiarot goes, and we were looking different. There were those two or three forces, but it wasn’t unknown.
The interesting challenge for me that Bill presented: This is going to be a grinder. There is going to be some adversity, but we have to do it.
At the end of the day, none it matters if the players don’t [buy in]. Barkov is the driver of that. Tkachuk didn’t change. That is just the game he plays. He comes in here, and it fits what we are trying to do. We have some highly-skilled guys and some young players who had to make some adjustments to their game. He was more than willing to do it.
That sounds easy, right? Why don’t you just do it on day one, and then you never have to deal with it? Coaches and the word process, right? There is something to that. To become confident, you have to earn it. There is some learning that goes with that.
How important was it to have Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad to be on board with the changes?
Maurice: It wouldn’t have worked without them. You just can’t. They’re the two drivers, right? It would not have worked.
You can’t fight your best players, especially because they are really good. I am not asking Barkov to play Bennett’s game, but there are a whole bunch of things that all players have to do.
Zac Dalpe doesn’t get a lot of headlines, but you have known him for a long time. How important is a veteran player like that to the room overall?
Maurice: Those guys are the great stories in hockey truly. He is not retiring when his game is done. He has got to get a job.
I think we drafted him in Carolina. I met him a long time ago. You come back, you lose track of a guy, and you come here. When you listen to the people talk about him here, what a phenomenal player here is for them.
He is incredible shape. A great family guy. Loves being at he rink. He will block shots. He will fight. He will do whatever he has to do to do the right thing.
I am trying to get him to remember the goal he scored against Boston more than the penalty he took against Toronto when they scored [in Game 2]. He is a heart-and-soul type of guy. He is going to be a great leader of men.
That is the great story. He will never forget that goal. That is not one of 30. That is a tying goal in a closeout, elimination game for us that gave us a chance. He is a great story.