BOSTON – Setting aside their surprise, the Toronto Maple Leafs swiftly learned to accept.
Nazem Kadri’s three-game suspension for targeting Tommy Wingels with an extraordinarily dangerous bit of malevolence in Game 1 was, to a man, deemed harsh. But the collective understanding among Leafs on Saturday morning was that bemoaning Kadri’s loss would not help carve into the obvious discrepancy between the first-round opponents following the one-sided series opener.
“At this point it’s a waste of energy thinking about that,” James van Riemsdyk said.
“(Let’s) get a couple wins without him, then welcome him back,” said Jake Gardiner, optimistically.
What the Boston Bruins accomplished as 5-1 winners over Toronto on Thursday was ostensibly more than just an early advantage in the series. They established a physical superiority, and, while bullying, wound up goading the most physical — and most emotional — skilled player with the Maple Leafs into removing himself from the equation until Game 5.
Whatever advantage the Bruins had coming into the opening-round matchup between hopeful Stanley Cup contenders swung significantly wider in that emotionally-charged moment.
“Naz is like a big brother to this team,” Mitch Marner, the less robotic of the three Leafs to hold court Thursday, said of his linemate.
“He is a guy that plays the game with a lot of passion — he’s a protector out there. It’s a big loss for us.”
Toronto’s coaching staff had begun bracing for the ban long before the decision came down roughly 24 hours after Kadri’s initial clubbing.
Babcock left just a single line untouched while wielding the magic marker on Friday’s off day. Leo Komarov was promoted to the top unit, and Zach Hyman moved down to assist the Kadri line now being centred by Patrick Marleau, while Andreas Johnsson claimed the vacated spot in the lineup.
Speaking strictly in terms of personnel, the changes don’t necessarily mean steep drop-off in raw talent — Johnsson can play. But one of the few advantages Toronto believed it had in the series — depth through centre — has been significantly compromised in the absence of Kadri.
As important as Game 2 is, this will be especially true in Games 3 and 4, as Marner eluded to.
“He’s an important guy to have at home to play against their top line.”
Mismatches are what sunk the Maple Leafs in Game 1. And without Kadri, they simply will not be able to manipulate the assignments to their liking when last change comes under their control as the series shifts to Toronto.
Looking too far in advance, though, could be like taking a shovel to the hole the Maple Leafs found themselves in after the first 60 minutes of the series.
Though that analogy might not be best to choose when considering this simplistic assessment from Babcock ahead of Game 2.
“We gotta dig in,” he said.
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