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Leafs look to feed off ACC crowd as playoff hockey returns to Toronto

TORONTO - After flying home from Boston, Nazem Kadri apparently treated his body like a temple.

"I went to dinner with a few of the guys, had a good meal, tucked myself in nice and early and got a good night's sleep," he said.

No word on whether the 22-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs centre had milk and cookies before pulling on his PJs, but chances are Leaf Nation will be chugging something stronger around Game 3 of the Leafs-Bruins playoff series Monday night.

It represents the first NHL post-season game in Toronto since 2004 and emotions are running high in the wake of the 4-2 Leafs win Monday night at Boston's TD Garden that tied the series up at one game apiece.

Maple Leafs Sports&Entertainment planned a "Leafs Nation Party" to watch the game on the big screen outside Air Canada Centre at Maple Leaf Square, with room for up to 2,000 blue-and-white fans.

And expect the beer to be flowing—and cash registers ringing—at the adjacent Real Sports Bar and Grill, a sports bar on steroids that is owned by MLSE. There could also be a few corks popping in the 50-storey and 54-storey Maple Leaf Square condos that tower above.

Leafs sniper Phil Kessel says he saw video of the crowd at a similar outside bash Saturday night cheering on his winning goal in the 4-2 win in Boston.

"It was pretty neat," Kessel, who is not one to go on at length, said after the morning skate Monday.

Best fans in the world has been the Leafs' common refrain in recent days when asked about Leaf Nation. A cynic might expand that definition to enthusiastic, success-starved, slightly masochistc and deep-pocketed.

Toronto has 11 Stanley Cup championships as the Maple Leafs, but none since 1967. The Leafs' last home playoff win was April 30, 2004, when they beat the Philadelphia Flyers 3-1 at Maple Leaf Gardens.

The appetite for hockey success here is something fierce. One of the local radio sports talk stations is boasting "All Leafs all the time" during the playoff run, which is probably good news for the slumping Blue Jays and Toronto FC.

Two lower bowl Platinum Club tickets for Monday's game were listed at US$2,000 apiece on StubHub.

The ACC may be filled with more Warren Buffetts than Jimmy Buffetts, but Kadri and his teammates say still they feed off the well-heeled crowd inside the Air Canada Centre

"The adrenalin carries you through games," he added. "It seems sometimes when you've got no gas left, if the fans are cheering it seems like you've got a whole different gear you can get to. it's nice to finally come home and give these fans what they deserve."

Asked what he remembered about the last time the Leafs were in the playoffs, Kadri replied: "I don't remember."

The pent-up fan excitement does not mean extra pressure, however, according to star winger Joffrey Lupul, since both fans and players have the same goal.

"We want to win the series. And it will be a fun ride for players and fans alike if we do that," Lupul.

Bruins centre Chris Kelly, who was born in Toronto, expects a loud crowd in the building. But he says outside, Leafs fans are well-behaved.

"For the most part they leave you alone," he said. "They're pretty respectful people. They're Canadians.

"I remember when we played in the (2011) final in Vancouver, people thought it would be the worst there. And I said people are extremely respectful. They'd say good luck, but we don't mean it. But rightfully so. Toronto's been the same way so far."

"Toronto's a great place to play hockey," Kelly added. "Obviously in the playoffs it's going to be amped up like it is in every other building. It should be exciting."

As for a Bruins' pushback in Game 3, Boston coach Claude Julien said the strategy was simple.

"We just have to be a better team than we were last game. We had a lot of breakdowns."

One such gaffe came on Kessel's goal, which saw the Leaf sniper swoop in alone after Kadri found him alone at the Bruins' blue-line with a long pass.

Julien called it "a parting of the Red Sea with the two Ds (defencemen) that were out there."

Toronto coach Randy Carlyle called for his team to raise the bar again.

"We're going to have to be better than we were," he said. "Because we know the Bruins are going to be better."


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