TORONTO – The day after a punishing playoff game that featured 99 hits, burly Leafs defenceman Mark Fraser was feeling it a bit.
Not that he was complaining. Still it had to hurt a little more, given than Boston won Monday night’s game 5-2 to regain the upper hand in the series. The Bruins lead two games to one going into Game 4 Wednesday.
Despite the abuse, the 26-year-old Fraser was in a good mood at Tueday’s skate.
“Sometimes you might feel a bump or a bruise and you’re not even sure how you got it,” the six-foot-four, 220-pounder said cheerfully after practice.
After a night when Boston outhit Toronto 51-49, Fraser was asked if he leapt out of bed Tuesday to head to the rink.
“Actually today I did,” he said with a grin. “A big part of that has been the significant change of the weather, the sunshine.”
For Toronto coach Randy Carlyle, the summer-like day was a welcome reminder to his players that all is not lost, despite a second defeat in three games in their first playoff experience since 2004.
“I used to say everybody’s in doom and gloom but the sun did come up today,” the coach said. “It was sunny out there.
“That would be the way we’d want to flush things and turn the page on it. Today’s a new day. Let’s start. Let’s build. Let’s focus. All those things are things that we try to provide.”
Carlyle and his coaching staff got a helping hand Tuesday when the clocks in the dressing room malfunctioned. They were six minutes off, meaning a group of Leafs arrived on the ice late for practice. They were greeted with some good-natured derision from teammates who made it on time.
Flushing is a word often heard in the Leaf dressing room. Carlyle is all about learning but not dwelling on what has already happened.
Listening to the Toronto coach is often enlightening, whether you are a reporter or NHL player. His message is simple but sound.
“You can’t change what happened and that can’t really be your focus on what today brought,” he said. “Today was about flushing what happened last night, recognizing what happened and then going into the preparation mode of tomorrow.
“Our focus has to be on what we can improve on for tomorrow night’s game. Can we improve on our turnovers? Can we improve on the out-and-out turnovers that led to their goals? Can we improve on our execution with the puck?
“Those are all the little things that we have to focus on and that’s part of the process versus the result. Any mental coach will tell you that you can’t labour on the result being the ultimate. It’s the process that you have to live in your mind that helps you get ready for it.”
Carlyle has managed to keep his team poised off the ice in the midst of a playoff-starved, hockey-mad city. On the ice, he is bidding to mould a squad woefully short on playoff experience—and one that is facing a playoff-savvy Bruins team that won the Cup two years ago.
In the wake of a loss in which the Leafs were punished for mistakes, Carlyle looked to the positives as he tried to rebuild his team’s confidence.
“What did we do well? That’s what we’re trying to pick out,” Carlyle said. “We’re trying to focus on the things that we did well that gave us a chance in the hockey game.
“Those are the things that we’re trying to build on, that we aren’t that far off and let’s prepare ourselves for tomorrow’s night.”
Carlyle’s morning message to his squad was repeated by his players later in the day.
“For the most part we played a pretty good game,” said winger Joffrey Lupul, an influential voice in the locker-room. “We created a lot of chances. We definitely worked hard.
“We’ve just got to eliminate some of those mistakes.”
“We’ve just got to limit a few things,” added centre Nazem Kadri. “All these games, we’re right in it. We just taking ourselves out with a couple of costly mistakes.”
Said Fraser: “There’s no reason why we should be down on ourselves. We lost (Monday) but we feel our efforts were there. We just need to clean up a few areas.”
Carlyle also took advantage of Tuesday’s meeting with the media to plant a few questions in the minds of the Game 4 officials on faceoffs. Boston had 45 faceoff wins to just 30 for the Leafs and Toronto centres were repeatedly thrown out of the circle.
The Toronto coach said he plans to ask league officials about the faceoff situation.
Boston coach Claude Julien, whose team excels at faceoffs, knew exactly what Carlyle was doing.
“When you lobby for something, it’s because you’re looking for a bit of a break next game,” he said. “And that’s what Randy is doing right now.”
“It’s going to be interesting to see whether the referees and the linesmen just do their job next game and not worry about who’s crying wolf,” he added.
Boston’s Patrice Bergeron led the league in faceoff wins during the regular season, winning 62.1 per cent of his draws. Fellow Bruin David Krejci ranked 15th.
The top Leaf was Bozak, in 25th spot. He won 12 and lost 17 faceoffs Monday.
Carlyle is no stranger to using media availabilities to send messages.
Asked Tuesday about what forward Clarke MacArthur, an assistant captain, has to do to get out of the press box back onto the ice for games, Carlyle offered up a shopping list.
“When he gets his next turn, that he has to provide a safe game, a physical game and make a contribution, as we ask every other member of our team, when it’s his turn to be first on the forecheck, he better be first. His turn to be first on the backcheck, he better be first. His turn to block a shot, he better be prepared to block a shot.
“That’s what we ask of all our players and he’s no different.”
Ironically, one person Carlyle doesn’t have to convince of the Leafs’ abilities as a team is Julien.
“We know that we’re in for a dogfight and the next game’s going to be a challenge,” Julien said. “They know they can play with us and they’ve proven it.”
Lupul predicts the Leafs will be ready. He knows they have to be.
“Everyone knows that this is a game that we’ve got to have and we’ll come out with a good effort (Wednesday),” he said.
Carlyle says the Toronto players know what’s needed to get back into the series.
The Leafs have to stop turning the puck over in critical areas, up the execution on the power play, get more traffic in front of Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask and force Boston to play more defence.
And they have to raise their game.
“Ordinary’s not good enough,” Carlyle said.
Even when the sun is shining outside.