PHILADELPHIA — Every morning when he wakes up, Maple Leafs forward Darryl Boyce finds blood splattered all over his pillow.
“I guess I should get darker sheets,” Boyce joked.
Those crimson stains are an example of just how much Boyce’s face has been turned to mush in the past month out on the ice.
And yet, he continues to plow ahead, no matter how excruciating the pain, no matter how long the odds.
Just like his team. Toward a playoff spot. Toward a berth in the post-season that, prior to the all-star break, no one thought they had a chance to achieve, much to the chagrin of Boyce and his teammates.
“I don’t see why people would think like that,” Boyce said on Thursday night. “We are all NHL players. We all have NHL contracts. And we all want to win.”
It is quickly becoming obvious that these Leafs believe in themselves. And with each victory, so, too, do their legions of fans in Toronto.
It’s easy to see why.
On Thursday night, the Maple Leafs came into the Wells Fargo Center, one of the toughest buildings in the NHL to play in, and sent a message.
They are for real.
They didn’t just beat the rough and tough Philadelphia Flyers 3-2.
They beat them up, too, thanks in part to rookie Keith Aulie, who dropped the Flyers Scott Hartnell with a memorable punch.
And when all was said and done, the hero was not Phil Kessel or Mikhail Grabovski, the guys you would expect to steal the spotlight. Nor was it former Leaf Kris Versteeg, who scored two goals for the Flyers against his former club.
This time the star ended up being the rugged Boyce, whose goal with just 4:30 remaining snapped a 2-2 tie and proved to be the game winner.
Don’t look now, Toronto, but the Leafs are just three points behind suddenly sagging New York Rangers for the eighth and final playoff spot in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
If ever there was an example of how there is no “I” in “team,” it’s these Leafs. Every night, every game, someone new becomes a difference maker, a recipe that has led the Leafs to a record of 10-2-4 since the all-star break.
“We have confidence, sure,” captain Dion Phaneuf said. “But every game for us has been a playoff game for us the past few weeks and this is no different.
“We came in here and got a character win in one of the toughest buildings to play in in the league. It means a lot. But we’re not looking any further than the next game.”
Phaneuf seems to be in an offensive groove right now, registering a goal and an assist. Nikolai Kulemin also had a two-point night.
Meanwhile, rookie James Reimer continues to shine, making 28 stops including a game saver in the final seconds of regulation.
“We’re just in a groove right now and we want to keep it going,” Reimer said.
Down the hall, it was a bittersweet night for Versteeg.
Sure it was great to score twice against his former Maple Leaf teammates, especially when facing them for the first time since he was traded out of Toronto back on Feb. 14. But, in the end, it just wasn’t enough to bring the Flyers two points.
“(The Leafs) are ramped up and ready to go every night,” Versteeg said. “They have to be because they are only a few points out. It would have been nice to beat them but stuff happens.”
Stuff like the Leafs creeping closer to a playoff berth, thanks to the battered beak and strong will of players like Darryl Boyce.