Leafs try to embrace the opportunity of now in Game 5

Leafs try to embrace the now in Game 5

WASHINGTON — Mike Babcock had one of the most prolific teams the NHL had ever seen in the spring 2006.

Loaded with future hall of famers like Nicklas Lidstrom, Brendan Shanahan and Steve Yzerman, the Detroit Red Wings became only the fifth team in history to win at least 58 games. But after four games of their first round series with Edmonton — a team that had 17 less wins and 29 fewer points during the regular season — Detroit stood even at two games apiece.

The Red Wings dropped the next two as their historic season fell by the wayside.

Eleven years later, Babcock finds himself on the opposite end of things. He’s now looking for an upset as the head coach of an underdog Maple Leafs squad tied 2-2 with a seemingly superior Capitals foe.

“We’re in a great situation,” Babcock said Thursday  before his team left for Game 5 Washington.

“This is our opportunity. We earned this opportunity. Let’s make good on this opportunity. I’m not trying to tell you, ‘Oh hey they’re young, we shouldn’t win.’ I never said that.”

Babcock has being pushing that message from the day the Leafs cracked the playoffs. He’s wanted his group to believe that even the tallest giants can be cut out at the knees during the post-season. If the ’06 Oilers, a relatively mediocre group led in scoring during the regular season by Ales Hemsky, can upend one of the best teams in history, why couldn’t his promising squad do the unlikely and beat the Caps?

Babcock wants his group embracing the moment, not because there won’t be more opportunities down the line, but because this one is here right now. Don’t wait for an uncertain future either, Babcock seemed to suggest. 

“I’ve pretty much been living proof of that,” said veteran winger James van Riemsdyk.

The 27-year-old went to the Stanley Cup final as a rookie with Philadelphia in 2010.

“Here we are seven years later and I think the longest I’ve stayed in the playoffs since then is the second round,” he said. “So again you never really know how these things can align. There’s so many different things that can happen like injuries and that sort of that stuff, so while you’re here you’ve just got to make the most of it and not worry about the next year.”

Expectations for Washington this spring mirror those of Babcock’s Detroit squad from back in the day.

The Capitals were built to win now with a number of key regulars, including Justin Williams, T.J. Oshie and Kevin Shattenkirk, all headed for unrestricted free agency and a few more beyond that, such as Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov, headed for restricted free agency. 

Alex Ovechkin, meanwhile, is 31 and coming off one of his least productive NHL seasons and Nicklas Backstrom turns 30 in November.

Washington won’t be this good or deep again any time soon — and they know it.

Babcock told his players Thursday morning to embrace the opportunity of “bonus” hockey. He imagined them doing cartwheels before the series if they knew they’d be even at two heading into Game 5.

His team is coming its least impressive showing of the playoffs though, a 5-4 defeat in Game 4 which saw them battered over 40 minutes before rallying late.

The Capitals scored two in the first five minutes for the second straight game and had four by Frederik Andersen when a period was in the books. Babcock said it was “the fist time that maybe we weren’t scared enough of them and it looked like it because our competition level wasn’t good enough.”

Brian Boyle, by far the Leafs most experienced post-season player, said the games only get harder as a series goes deeper. The two teams start to hate one another a little more, he said, and learn one another’s tricks. Faceoffs, for instance, suddenly started favouring the Capitals after early domination by Toronto.

“We started out hot, they made adjustments, (and now) we’ve got to make to more adjustments and figure out ways to get the puck back,” Boyle said.

“There’s a lot more at stake and a lot less recovery space if that makes any sense,” added Babcock. 

Washington hogged the puck for much of Game 4 and has a slight edge in possession through four games, but other than that the series is pretty close to even.

Both teams have scored 14 goals and the Leafs have managed a mere three more shots (150-147).

Regular-season success, in other words, has mean very little.

“We just gotta know that it’s going to be hard,” Boyle said. “It’s going to get harder and harder as it goes along. It always does.”

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press

Just Posted

10 tonnes of plastic cleared from North Coast beaches

Living Oceans Society spent three days sorting the marine debris

Court orders protestors to leave fish farm site

“The adjournment allows us to compile our evidence and present it in 30 days.”

NISS Students find out what journalism is all about

Four students visit the Gazette for a work experience

Disability Tax Credits in jeopardy for Type 1 diabetics

“It’s something I deal with every day of my life.”

Port Hardy Residents still waiting for Telus Fibre Optic

Mansourati was unable to say who Telus would be contracting to finish the ninth fibre serving area.

100,000 bulbs shine bright for Lights of Hope

St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver launched its annual campaign to raise funds for equipment, research

‘I will now live in consistent fear’: Allan Schoenborn granted escorted leaves

The Merritt man was deemed not criminally responsible in the killing of his three children in 2008

Hammy the deer dodges conservation officers in Prince Rupert

The famous Prince Rupert hammock deer maintains his purple threads

‘No shirt, no service, no Canada’

Shirtless Tacoma man arrested after Canadian border officials say they found meth in rental vehicle

Nasty note on B.C. windshield sparks online outrage

Vernon’s Bailey McDonald is using a painful experience to start conversation about invisible illness

Port Alberni resident robbed with weapon, thieves steal thousands

Most of the stolen currency is in Canadian $100 bills. The police investigation is ongoing.

Single vehicle crash on Old Island Highway sends driver to hospital

A single-vehicle crash just north of Courtenay early Friday morning sent one… Continue reading

Federal funding to combat guns, gangs and opioid crisis

Public Safety Minister Ralph Goodale said illicit drugs are often main cause of guns, gangs violence

INTERACTIVE MAP: Follow the 2017 Tour de Rock

Follow the Tour de Rock, as they pedal more than 1,000 kilometres fundraising to combat paediatric cancer

Most Read