It goes without saying if the Toronto Maple Leafs are to enjoy success in the post-season they will have to rely heavily on the usual suspects.
The No. 1 line of Phil Kessel, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak has been one of the top units in the NHL, Tuesday night in San Jose
notwithstanding, and must continue to be assertive.
The secondary scorers, Joffrey Lupul, Nazem Kadri, Mason Raymond and possibly David Bolland, if he returns to health
, will also be important.
Defenceman Dion Phaneuf will have to continue chipping in with offence all the while going nose-to-nose with the opposition's top point producers and limiting their success.
And, of course, strong play from starting goaltender Jonathan Bernier is paramount. If for any reason he goes down, back-up James Reimer will have to be a heck of a lot better than he was in San Jose.
Successful teams are led by their stars. If they don't shine, they don't advance. But support players can also play a significant role.
Last season non-stars such as Andrew Shaw, Brandan Saad, Michal Handzus and Johnny Oduya played huge roles in helping the Chicago Blackhawks win their second Stanley Cup in four seasons.
There is, however, another group of players who are also important and it's not the guys that first spring to mind. Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle has endlessly (and wisely) been preaching the benefits of playing a more physically engaged and puck-control game.
In recent weeks the team has shown a little more buy-in where this is concerned, even if they continue to be out-shot at an alarming rate.
Here are six players who could be difference-makers for the Maple Leafs in the playoffs; particularly if they are hitting on all cylinders as a group:
He will likely never be a 30-goal scorer again as he was in 2010-11, but that does not mean he can't be a useful player. Leading up to the Olympics and again afterwards, Kulemin has been a physical, hard-working two-way plugger on both the wing and even at centre on occasion. At around 230 pounds, Kulemin is hard on the opposition and the puck and capable of notching the occasional goal. Four of his eight goals this season are game-winners.
Acquired from Carolina in January
, Gleason took a while to acclimatize himself to the Maple Leafs system, but since has added some much-needed sandpaper on the blue-line. He is always game to right some of the wrongs done by opposing pests. Gleason got his first taste of NHL playoff action with the Hurricanes last season and accounted well for himself, scoring a goal and five points in 18 games with 32 penalty minutes.
Something clicked inside Bodie upon his last recall from the AHL Marlies. At six-foot-five and 225 pounds, Bodie is finally starting to assert himself as a more forceful opponent. He is also a solid skater and has decent hands. Frankly, it might be worth experimenting with Bodie on right wing with Lupul and Kadri to see if he can open up a little ice for the two scorers.
Regardless, Bodie has been giving the Maple Leafs eight minutes of quality ice time and could be an impact player in the playoffs.
When the Tampa Bay Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2003-04, their motto was: Safe is death. Gunnarsson and the Maple Leafs feel the exact opposite; safe is life. Commonly paired with Phaneuf, the veteran Swede concentrates on keeping the puck out of his net, but isn't averse to joining the rush on occasion. By the way, he'll need to be better than he was in last year's playoffs when he was minus-7 in seven games.
The former Tampa Bay Lightning blue-liner stumbled a few times in his NHL comeback
after spending last season playing in the AHL where he was a standout. Just shows the huge difference between the two leagues. Nevertheless, Ranger has played significantly better recently and is finding his game just in time for the playoffs. He is suddenly a more active shot blocker and has a little offensive upside to his game to boot. Ranger is much more physical player now than the player who managed seven points in 11 playoff games with Tampa Bay.
The playoffs have not been kind to the veteran checking pivot, but he will be front and centre as a defensive forward and penalty-killer when it counts. In 11 post-season games with St. Louis and Toronto he has no points and is minus-8. The Maple Leafs need him to use his size, skating ability and if he can find the opposition's net on occasion, that would be appreciated, too.
Back to accessibility links