Polak fell awkwardly in the second period of Game 2 on Saturday after a collision with Washington Capitals blueliner Brooks Orpik. The team is remaining tight-lipped regarding the specifics surrounding his right leg and/or ankle injury, but suffice it to say it’s serious enough to require surgical repair.
“A guy as tough as him, when you see him on the ice, I don’t know if I’ve ever seen him stay down,” Orpik said via Chris Johnston. “When you see him stay down, especially that close to the bench, you know there’s something probably not right.”
Not only has Polak been effective on the ice for the Maple Leafs but the 30-year-old is a strong voice in the team’s locker room.
“He’s one of the best team guys we have,” Morgan Rielly said Monday prior to Toronto’s 4-3 overtime win to take a 2-1 series lead. “To lose him at this time of year is tough, for sure. But you just want to be there for him. I mean he’s been there for us all year, he’s going to continue to be there for us…It sucks.”
The Maple Leafs were without Nikita Zaitsev for the first two games of the playoffs but the Russian returned to the lineup in Game 3 for his first playoff game as an NHLer.
“I think he probably found the first period a little fast,” Babcock said of Zaitsev Tuesday. “I think his first shift he got scored on, but I thought he settled out and really competed. He’s feeling good here today. Get one under your belt and he’ll just get better.”
Rielly and Jake Gardiner, whose 31:03 of ice-time per game leads all players in the playoffs, have stepped their games. They’ll have to continue to do that with Polak done for the year.
“Jake has elite hockey sense, can skate and pass and think the game real well,” Babcock said. “He does some things sometimes and you don’t know what he’s doing, but it has a way of working out for Jake. He’s been a real effective player for us, he can play a ton of minutes and makes good plays and he’s a plus all the time.”
On Monday the team went with Rielly-Hunwick, Gardiner-Zaitsev and Marincin-Carrick pairings on the back end, which will likely remain unchanged for Game 4 Wednesday.