BOSTON – Nazem Kadri does not lack for confidence.
Just hours before the 22-year-old Toronto Maple Leafs centre made his NHL playoff debut at TD Garden, Kadri spoke confidently about his team’s chances in this first-round series with the Boston Bruins.
“Obviously we understand that we could be the underdogs, but the way we see it is that we’ve beaten this team already this year,” Kadri said Wednesday morning. “We only finished four or five points behind them, it was a tight stretch towards the end. Obviously they’re a good team, we’ve got to give them respect, but at the same time we’re not approaching this as underdogs.
“This is a very, very winnable series for us.”
While some will no doubt view that as cocky statement, it’s worth remembering that he’s right.
Almost overlooked in the buildup to this series is the fact that the Bruins aren’t currently as big or bad as they once were. This team won just two of its last nine regular season games and doesn’t leave anyone with the impression it is brimming with confidence.
Boston seemed like the more uptight of the two teams prior to Game 1 and coach Claude Julien indicated he didn’t much care about what the Leafs would bring in the opener.
“I think it’s more about what I expect from our team,” said Julien. “I don’t care what they do, what I care about is what we do. Right now, I think that’s the stage where our team is at.”
Both teams enter the series relatively healthy. Top-line Leafs centre Tyler Bozak was expected to return from his upper-body injury while Julien labeled Nathan Horton a “game-time decision.”
Earlier this week, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli spoke frankly about his team’s struggles – “I’m going to have to say that we really have to step up our performance to have success in the playoffs,” he said – and the players seem to agree.
This is largely the same group that won the Stanley Cup in 2011 and they seemed excited to finally leave the regular season behind.
“We had some tough stretches at the end of the season,” said centre David Krejci. “It’s a good thing that the playoffs are here. Everybody starts from 0-0.”
The Leafs, meanwhile, enter their first playoff series in nine years looking to make a statement. They have struggled mightily against Boston in recent years and know it will be tough to get past their Northeast Division rival.
“It’s different (in the playoffs),” said Leafs forward Phil Kessel, a former Bruin. “It’s a harder-fought game, guys accelerate their play and raise their game. It’s going to be a tough game out there tonight.”
As a result, coach Randy Carlyle has asked each of his players to harness their emotions and contribute even more than they did during the year.
“It’s an opportunity for our hockey club to meet the challenge head on,” said Carlyle. “We’re not going to skirt any of the issues that we’re going to be presented with. We know that we’re playing a very good hockey club — a veteran hockey club that’s been in the wars before.
“We’re going to respect them, but we’re not going to be in awe of them.”