At a second like this for the Maple Leafs, there’s no denying the truth. An enormous a part of Thursday night time’s epic process will come right down to Xs and Os. By far the most important half will likely be about exorcising ghosts.
Up 3-1 of their best-of-seven collection with Tampa Bay, one win away from advancing within the post-season for the primary time for the reason that tail finish of the NHL’s wood-stick period, the Maple Leafs have proven they’re greater than ok to beat the Lightning. The one query is: Are they considerably totally different sufficient to not beat themselves?
Given the accrued historical past of heartbreak heaped in sure corners of the Toronto dressing room, successful Recreation 5 will likely be as a lot about taking part in a sound hockey sport as it is going to be about navigating a troublesome thoughts sport.
Nonetheless, you will get the thought, at the very least anecdotally, that the stress doesn’t appear to be hanging as oppressively because it has in earlier Leaf runs. Possibly it’s the sight of Tampa’s clear fragility. Possibly it’s the possibly false consolation of a two-game cushion. Possibly it’s the nice feeling of three straight wins, together with a few extra time thrill rides in Florida.
And possibly there’s a secret nod to be given to a pair of staff dinners in town in Tampa, an initiative spearheaded largely by defenceman Luke Schenn. Upon arriving in Toronto for his second go-round with the Maple Leafs forward of the March 3 commerce deadline, Schenn stated he was considerably appalled to listen to how, in earlier Toronto playoff runs, the Maple Leafs had largely caught to what he thought of a regrettable highway journey behavior.
“Right here in previous playoff collection, speaking to a couple guys after I first acquired right here, they at all times simply had staff meals on the resort,” Schenn stated, shaking his head.
As an NHL veteran, the 33-year-old Schenn stated he’s developed some sturdy beliefs about the best way a profitable franchise must function. Amongst them: A profitable franchise ought to think about consuming on the staff resort solely as a final resort. Which is a throwback take, to make sure. We’re residing in an period through which loads of Schenn’s colleagues are glad to whereas away a highway journey lounging of their five-star, 8,000-thread-count king beds taking part in video video games and shopping social media.
Schenn, who considers it some extent of delight that he has by no means ordered room service in 15 years as an NHLer, is of the assumption that getting out of the resort — and, extra importantly, attending to know one’s teammates in a extra socially conducive setting — is a crucial a part of making a successful tradition. The assumption was solely bolstered when, as a member of two Stanley Cup-winning groups in Tampa in 2020 and 2021, Schenn and teammate Ryan McDonough had been the driving forces behind road-tripping restaurant visits.
“I believe to get out of the resort and sit down and have a staff meal, you’re not essentially at all times enthusiastic about hockey, which is an effective factor,” Schenn stated.
For lots of the longest-tenured Maple Leafs, a few of whom have undoubtedly at occasions over-thought the playoffs, much less pondering appears like an excellent factor.
“On prime of that, you type of get pleasure from one another’s firm and the laughs, and get to know one another slightly bit extra,” Schenn stated.
Which is why Schenn, with the approval of Leafs captain John Tavares and different key determination makers, efficiently lobbied for the staff to forgo their earlier adherence to a hotel-bunker mentality and enterprise out into the Florida night time on their latest journey to Tampa.
“He’s been orchestrating some staff dinners for us on the highway … he’s positively passionate in regards to the staff dinner,” teammate Justin Holl stated of Schenn. “So we’re glad to have him. He likes a very good muck, for positive.”
The 2 staff dinners, at a few unnamed Tampa-area steak homes, had been primarily necessary features held in non-public rooms. Schenn curated the menu, the small print of which had been too intricate to interrupt down on this house.
“Mainly for the (appetizers), there’s been some beef tartare, tuna tartare, crab muffins, that form of deal,” Holl stated. “After which for the principle — steak, fish or rooster, mainly.”
After the primary dinner, Schenn stated he acquired largely compliments, albeit with a substantial dose of much less fawning suggestions from fussier teammates. One critic calculated, for example, that there was truffle in three of the six obtainable appetizers.
“OK, an excessive amount of truffle,” Schenn stated with a shrug. “So I stated, ‘That’s high-quality, boys.’ I’m going to make in-series changes. So I tweaked the menu slightly bit. I’m at all times open to suggestions.”
Which isn’t to say the second dinner didn’t include scrutiny. Nonetheless, contemplating the Maple Leafs departed Tampa with two victories, it’s truthful to say Schenn’s perception that you simply solely construct a staff while you break bread has been given some credibility.
“(On the staff dinners) we now have it arrange the place we now have one other (NHL playoff) sport on TV within the background, and guys are simply having fun with one another’s firm for 2 to 3 hours quite than being in a resort and mainly consciously enthusiastic about the duty at hand the subsequent day,” Schenn stated. “I believe that’s necessary. Nevertheless it’s additionally necessary to construct relationships with guys.”
All that stated, no one’s suggesting the perfect celebration planners are going to be nice playoff performers. It simply so occurs, although, that 4 video games into this collection, the defensive pairing of Schenn and Morgan Rielly has been Toronto’s most dependable by a substantial margin. Rielly has offered the welcome offence — two targets and 6 factors, together with the extra time winner in Recreation 3. And Schenn, the stay-at-home, hard-hitting outdated head, has additionally been amongst Toronto’s most sure-handed blueliners on the breakout. At five-on-five, Schenn has been on the ice for 5 Maple Leaf targets, and only one objective towards.
In different phrases, he’s calmly getting the puck out of Toronto’s zone, and it’s attainable Schenn’s dinner-planning initiative helps sure teammates get out of their very own heads. Which could effectively be necessary. At a second like this, in spite of everything, there’s no denying the truth. Tampa, after three runs to the Cup ultimate, is on fumes. From right here on out, the one staff that may beat the Maple Leafs is the Maple Leafs. It’s not about Xs and Os. It’s about exorcising ghosts.
To which Schenn would little question add: It’s additionally about often forgetting about all that, escaping to your resort bunker, and having fun with the post-season moments as you go.
“In my expertise of the playoffs, even in Tampa in these Stanley Cup runs, you don’t keep in mind lots of the video games, or lots of the performs guys make, good or dangerous. However you keep in mind the tales, and being with the blokes, and the laughs,” Schenn stated. “For those who’re a (shut) staff off the ice, it’s going that will help you be nearer on the ice. That’s what I consider in. And that’s what I needed to deliver right here.”
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