"They are big, they are strong, they are fast, they have been beaten a number of times in the playoffs, so they are battle-tested to say the least", Babcock said, "and they are as hungry as any team in the National Hockey League and playing as good". That's in sharp contrast to a year ago when they coasted over the final month of the season, going 7-5-4 in their final 16 games, and never were able to flip the switch and find their top level when the playoffs began.
The Toronto Maple Leafs had two previous chances to clinch their first playoff spot in four years and could not close the deal, losing two games in a row.
James van Riemsdyk scored twice, but the Toronto Maple Leafs dropped their regular-season finale 3-2 to the Columbus Blue Jackets on Sunday night and will face the Washington Capitals in the opening round of their first postseason since 2013.
Sidney Crosby will play against the Toronto Maple Leafs, but other regulars of the Pittsburgh Penguins will rest. They secure a playoff spot in Game No. 81 of their season, against No. 81 Phil Kessel. Evgeni Malkin found the net in both outings against the Maple Leafs this season, but the team continues to be cautious with the former Hart Trophy victor as he nurses his way back to health following a shoulder injury. Another saying heard around the National Hockey League is that a team can be too young and oblivious to be scared of the pressure. That looks set to be the Maple Leafs, but it could still be the Senators, Bruins, Lightning or Islanders. "You want to gain home ice and match up who you play best against". "It's nice we still control our own fate and we did a good job all year to set ourselves up like this". Everyone gets to take a deep breath but there is lots of work to do.
"We talked a lot about playing with confidence and poise. So we will get that worked out". It's a matter of going out and executing.
Asked about pressure on his young team heading into the playoffs on Sunday morning, Leafs coach Mike Babcock deflected with apparent aim at the Capitals.
"[The players] could go home and watch you guys all day long", he said.
The Hunting Channel was a big favourite of his for just that reason. There's nothing on the Leafs on the hunting channel.
"I think you embrace it", added Matthews.
The Maple Leafs meanwhile now sit in third place in the Atlantic division and if they can earn a point here they will lock in ahead of the Boston Bruins who are idle on Sunday after their regular season came to an end yesterday with a 3-1 loss to the Washington Capitals.
EAST: The Toronto Maple Leafs' loss to Columbus sends them to Washington to face the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals on the brutal Metropolitan Division side of the draw.
But there are a couple of factors going their way. The Blues will face the Wild, who won 3-1 on Saturday to gain home ice, in the first round.
Evgeni Malkin will remain out with injury as will Olli Maatta and Carl Hagelin.
Don't tell the Penguins' No. 81 that his team's 81st game of the season barely mattered. Roman Polak, who is easily one of the toughest players on the Leafs, was forced to sit out all but one shift in the third period after he suffered what appeared to be a leg injury. I know what I think: just win, baby. The season is over for the Islanders and Lightning, who weren't really in control of their destiny. The Lightning played the Montreal Canadiens on Friday night and finish with the Buffalo Sabres on Sunday.