Two early wakeup calls greeted the Maple Leafs on Tuesday morning.
One was to rouse them out of bed for an unheard-of practice time of 8:15. The other came courtesy of coach Randy Carlyle, who halted practice at the Tampa Bay Times Forum on at least three occasions to bark at the players.
“Everyone in the building can hear me but you!” Carlyle yelled at one point.
After two days away from the ice, and after clinching a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference, the Leafs apparently needed a cold-water splash.
“After a couple of days, you can expect that,” forward Clarke MacArthur said. “We’re trying to get our minds right again, and he will let you know if you are dragging a bit. It was a good practice today.”
Carlyle didn’t mind that he had to aggressively remind his players of some of the finer points. He usually has not been as animated during practice this season.
“When you have a couple of days off the ice, what happens is they forget a few of the things, and it is 8 o’clock in the morning, they are human, and they are not any different than you and I,” Carlyle said. “Some days they’re not paying as much attention to detail as you would like. It is up to us as coaches to try to find a way to send a message.”
The overall message with three games remaining in the regular season, starting on Wednesday night against the Tampa Bay Lightning, is clear.
“We want to play to the template that we have created right from Day 1,” Carlyle said. “We don’t want to change what we are bringing to the game. There are tweaks in our game, but our compete level, our one-on-one battle, our execution, all of those things have to go up. We have to try to build, not stay status quo, because these next games are really an opportunity for our hockey club to gain some more points.”
The Leafs still can gain home-ice advantage in the first round, but they would have to win out, and hope the Montreal Canadiens and Boston Bruins falter. They have 55 points, four back of both the Canadiens and the Bruins.
They figure on some push-back from the Lightning, which has been eliminated from playoff contention. Ditto from the Florida Panthers, who play host to the Leafs on Thursday.
“I have been on the other side of it where you want to try to screw up the other team a little bit and where they are finishing,” MacArthur said. “That is where your pride is and that is what you are playing for. We’re going to have a tough couple of games here, so we have to be ready.”