Deliver on the Stanley Cup.
Nicely, first, deliver on the Boston Bruins.
That was the chest-pounding message Nazem Kadri delivered to higher administration moments after the Toronto Maple Leafs defeated the Bruins 4-Three in a playoff-like sport on Saturday night time. It was a press release win. Not solely did the Leafs show they might beat a group that they’ll seemingly face within the first spherical of the playoffs, however in addition they did so with out the assistance of injured centre Auston Matthews.
With the commerce deadline approaching, the importance was not misplaced on Kadri.
“We need to go for it,” he mentioned. “We legitimately have an opportunity. We now have a protracted approach to go. It’s actually a step in the precise course.”
When requested to elaborate on what “go for it” meant, Kadri responded: “We don’t need to get bounced within the first or second spherical.”
Message acquired. The subsequent morning, the Leafs traded for Montreal’s Tomas Plekanec, who now turns into the perfect fourth-line centre within the NHL. To not be outdone, a Bruins group that had relied closely on one line for offence this season acquired secondary scoring within the type of New York Rangers ahead Rick Nash.
It’s laborious to judge every group independently, since barring a late-season collapse by the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Leafs and Bruins will likely be taking part in in opposition to one another within the first spherical. Heading into Monday’s commerce deadline, Toronto is in second place within the Atlantic Division, one level forward of Boston, though the Bruins have performed 4 fewer video games.
Each groups are amongst the most popular within the NHL lately, with Toronto having received 13 of its previous 15 video games and Boston dropping solely 4 instances in regulation since mid-December. It’s unlucky that two of the highest three groups within the Jap Convention must play one another within the first spherical. And but, it guarantees to be one of the anticipated collection’ of the playoffs.
So who made the higher commerce? Nicely, that may not be determined till the groups meet in April, which may’t come quickly sufficient.
Right here’s what we all know proper now: Toronto and Boston addressed comparable areas of weak spot in utterly other ways.
In Nash, the Bruins went massive and nabbed the No. 1 identify obtainable on the rental market. However in addition they received a past-his-prime winger who has 18 objectives and 28 factors this season and turns 34 across the time of the Stanley Cup remaining. In fact, if the Bruins can get that far within the playoffs, will probably be value it.
Boston, which additionally signed Brian Gionta following a three-week stint representing the U.S. on the Olympics, lastly has scoring depth. Whereas Patrice Bergeron (27 objectives), Brad Marchand (24) and David Pastrnak (22) have mixed for 73 objectives this season, no different Bruin has scored greater than 12 objectives. Nash won’t be the identical participant who scored 42 objectives in 2014-15, however he’s an enchancment on David Backes and has extra expertise than rookies Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk.
“I’ve solely been right here 5 minutes, however I can really feel the (Cup) buzz,” mentioned Nash, who was held with out a level in his Bruins debut, a 4-1 loss to the Buffalo Sabres. “I needed to go to a spot that needed me and had a fantastic likelihood to win. I believe Boston suits each these completely.”
Nonetheless, it was an enormous gamble for an older group that had to surrender a first-round choose on this 12 months’s draft, and a possible NHL prospect in defenceman Ryan Lindgren, in addition to Matt Belesky, Ryan Spooner and a seventh-round choose in 2019.
The Leafs had been way more conservative on Sunday. Then once more, their wants had been a lot totally different.
Whereas the younger and rising group continues to be seeking to doubtlessly add a defenceman earlier than Monday’s deadline, Plekanec provides Toronto depth and suppleness down the center with little to no threat. All it value was a second-round choose in 2018 and a few minor-league prospects (winger Kerby Rychel and defenceman Rinat Valiev) who weren’t going to ever play for the Leafs.
On the identical time, you get what you pay for. Nobody goes to confuse the 35-year-old Plekanec, who has six objectives and 24 factors this season, with Pittsburgh’s Derick Brassard. However he’s an improve over fourth-line centre Dominic Moore, somebody who can kill penalties, make performs and be moved up or down within the line-up relying on the state of affairs. Consider it as Brian Boyle, 2.0.
With Auston Matthews, Nazem Kadri, Tyler Bozak and Plekanec down the center, Toronto now rivals Pittsburgh for the perfect assortment of centres one by 4 within the NHL. That’s no small feat. In opposition to the Bruins, the added depth might turn into a distinction maker, particularly if the highest two traces cancel one another out due to line matching, as Leafs head coach Mike Babcock mentioned on Saturday.
In different phrases, Plekanec is healthier than Boston’s fourth-line centre, Sean Kuraly (5 objectives and 11 factors).
That’s the top sport right here. Beating Boston. Whereas Kadri’s eventual aim is to win a championship — not “get bounced within the first or second spherical” — you seemingly need to get previous the Bruins to do it.
Sunday was a small step in the direction of that.
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