Leafs whipped into shape for Bruins
LANCE HORNBY, QMI Agency
TORONTO - The Maple Leafs return to the Air Canada Centre with the same dismal playoff prospects they faced when departing their rink a week ago.
But they’ll be back Tuesday with a facelift behind the bench, on the ice and with the knowledge they’ll feel a bit more appreciated on home ice. Randy Carlyle makes his ACC coaching debut — the crowd’s demand for Ron Wilson’s scalp being heeded upstairs — having made a good first impression with a win in Montreal and two whip-cracking practices.
The ex-Leaf is to be given a brief scoreboard salute early in the game, along with assistant and former Leaf Dave Farrish, but then it’s down to business.
“A lot of people are going to be there watching what Randy has up his sleeve,” defenceman Carl Gunnarsson said after a second marathon workout on Monday.
The Leafs will be taking on the Stanley Cup champion Boston Bruins, who’ve already beaten them four times this season to the tune of 23-6 on the scoreboard. The Bs might have hit 30 goals had the Leafs not switched coaches for a wake-up call.
Winger Jay Rosehill, a forgotten man under Wilson, will likely be in the lineup to ride shot gun, while Carlyle might also work in Colby Armstrong after sitting him in Montreal. A hand injury to scrapper Mike Brown might dictate if the Leafs use more muscle. The other changes have already seen Matt Frattin installed as a regular second-line winger, with Nikolai Kulemin and Tim Connolly moved to more checking roles.
A rejuvenated Jonas Gustavsson likely makes his third straight start in net. The Bruins are certainly capable of scoring early to upset the Leafs’ big night, but it’s less likely, given what Carlyle drummed into his group’s head the past two days. They’re ready for the re-launch.
“There will be a few butterflies for me, like in Montreal,” said Carlyle of his reception. “We have to make the ACC be a difficult place to come into. That’s our goal, to have a home ice record that is stellar.”
The Leafs fell a game under .500 at the ACC when they were booed off the ice against Florida, but know they can improve their 12th-place standing and team morale with just a point. Carlyle crammed a lot of tutorial into two days.
“We’ve only won one game, but we stuck to a game plan and the players are to be credited,” Carlyle said. “We’d like to get some consistency in our lineup. But when you have extra people, you have to pick and choose times to get them in. They can’t sit forever or they lose their ability to make a contribution and be effective. So we’ll have tough decisions. You strive for your players to provide you ‘A’ minutes, quality minutes, to make that decision tougher.”
Players such as Armstrong, defenceman Mike Komisarek and Rosehill before his demotion were getting very frustrated under Wilson. The route back in the lineup might come faster under Carlyle, who has just 17 regular season games to work with and a lot of people anxious to impress him.
There were five players wearing maroon fourth-line jerseys on Monday, Rosehill, Connolly, Brown, Matthew Lombardi and Joey Crabb. Cody Franson is also pushing to get back in on defence. In the last days under Wilson, players on the bubble felt extra nervous about making mistakes. Now that energy is being channeled in a more positive vein.
“You have to show Randy you believe you want to be out there,” Gunnarsson said. “The competition changes. A lot of guys see there’s a chance to get more minutes.
“I see that in a positive way. Guys are competing hard in practice and everyone is showing him what they’ve got.
“The practices have been long, but we’ve been doing a lot of watching, too, getting to know the system. We’ll have some legs tomorrow and if we’re tired, the crowd will help us.”
For the first time since the season went south, he might be right.