The Pittsburgh Penguins certainly didn’t let three losses in four games to the Maple Leafs spoil their Stanley Cup summer.
But if they plan a repeat, or at least a smooth ride back to a top seed, they’ll have to treat the Leafs as badly as they did other teams in the NHL’s tenement district. It didn’t escape coach Dan Bylsma that he did well against every Eastern Conference playoff refugee, except the Leafs.
When the Pens counted up their 99 points, they needed a tie-breaker to get past division rival Philadelphia for home-ice advantage in their series.
“Phoenix (which beat the Pens 3-0 on Wednesday) was evidence of that,” Bylsma said Friday at Ricoh Coliseum. “They came out hard, executed very well, were ready to play us and we didn’t match their work ethic.
“The Leafs were ready, they know on their schedule the Penguins are coming to town and we need to be ready for a team that’s ready for us.”
The Leafs outscored Pittsburgh 21-13 last year, with Nik Antropov outpointing Sidney Crosby 8-6. But the Pens rebounded from the loss to the Coyotes with an all-for-one rally against the Flyers, a 5-4 road win where trench warfare was as big a factor as some outstanding offence.
“Not only did we bounce back with effort and character, but within that game there were times where they came at us hard and we had to answer,” Bylsma said. “Not just once or twice. It was a great effort, a great education for our team.”
This year’s Leafs are still looking for their first win (0-2-1), sit last among 30 teams with one point and their starting goaltender and defence have been a disappointment so far. But no one seemed downcast Friday.
“Sometimes you surprise yourself when you play the better teams,” coach Ron Wilson said at the Leafs workout across town at the Mastercard Centre. “You come up with your better performances. We did that a lot last year. It would be great news if we could find a way to beat Pittsburgh, it would be great for our confidence.”
Vesa Toskala is in definite need of a morale booster after a rocky start and what looked like a lengthy stint on the bench after a promising NHL debut by rival Jonas Gustavsson. Then Gustavsson tweaked his groin, went on IR and Toskala’s car keys were returned. He’ll likely start Saturday, Monday against the Rangers in Manhattan and Tuesday here versus Colorado.
“It’s good to play against a tough team,” Toskala chirped.
The Leafs put in three hard days of practice to address some bad habits.
“It‘s a long season and winning changes everything, gets you right out of the dog house,” said defenceman Mike Komisarek. “The only way you have a great three-in-four-nights segment is by winning the first one. That’s all we’re worried about right now.”