TORONTO — The Toronto Maple Leafs will have their trusted fourth line centre in the lineup as they try to clinch their first playoff berth since 2013.
Brian Boyle left the Leafs 4-1 loss to Washington on Tuesday night with an upper body injury, but declared himself ready to face the Tampa Bay Lightning — his former team — on Thursday evening.
Toronto acquired the 32-year-old from Tampa ahead of the trade deadline, valuing his veteran presence, defensive ability and faceoff know-how in the fourth line centre spot.
He and the Leafs can clinch their ticket to the post-season if they beat the Lightning in any fashion. They've captured two of the first three meetings, including a 5-0 victory on March 16.
"You set goals at the beginning of the year and I think pretty much every team wants to get in the playoffs," said Boyle, who's played 100 NHL playoff games, most recently with the Lightning last spring. "You get that checkmark next to your name and cross it off the list it's a good feeling."
The Leafs haven't gotten there since the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, and not since 2004 in a full 82-game campaign.
Boyle appeared to be injured late in the first period against the Capitals when he was rocked in the neutral zone by Tom Wilson. He played one additional shift before exiting for good.
"That was more or less just kind of for me if I was going to be able to help the club or not," Boyle said after taking part in Thursday's morning skate. "I didn't think, how it was going, I wasn't going to be able to help us win a game or have a good impact on the game. So those are tough. I think that's probably the first time I've done that, but sometimes it's how it has to go."
The addition of Boyle — which came at the expense of a second round pick in the 2017 draft and minor leaguer Byron Froese — has helped solidify head coach Mike Babcock's fourth unit. His savvy presence at both ends has aided veteran Matt Martin and a rotating cast of right wingers.
Babcock raved about Boyle's leadership abilities in particular.
"As important as his play is maybe that part is even more important, but he's been excellent," Babcock said.
Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press