“If I start answering those today, what will you ask me the next week?” head coach Sheldon Keefe smiled when asked about his Round 1 opponent.
Points leader Mitch Marner similarly downplayed the hype of the long-awaited showdown between the two most storied franchises in the sport. Heck, Keefe said next week’s playoffs weren’t so much as brought up in the club’s pre-game meeting Wednesday in Ottawa.
The focus, as it has been all season, is one game at a time.
And while, on the surface, it may seem like the North Division’s No. 1 seed has nothing left to accomplish these last two more games on their schedule, four more points could improve Toronto’s chances of home ice in Rounds 3 and 4.
Two more wins would give the Leafs 80 points and a chance to tie the league’s best, depending how Vegas and Colorado fare. Two more regulation wins would give Toronto 31 and a tiebreaker should the Presidents’ Trophy come down to that.
Paradoxically, the Leafs are not looking ahead to the Montreal series in order to set itself up in the event they move past it.
Travis Dermott towed the company line about needing to sharpen their game and secure a win against the Senators Wednesday but was more willing to wink at the thrill that awaits Canada next week.
“Leafs versus Habs — it’s everything you want in a playoff series, I guess,” Dermott said. “We’ve had some good battles this year, which are just going to add to the fire.”
“It’s just going to be fun.”
The bilingual Dermott, who hails from Newmarket, Ont., relayed a nice story about how his mother enrolled him in French immersion while all the defenceman’s hockey buddies were taking English classes.
“What if you get drafted by Montreal? You want to be able to speak French,” she’d tell her son.
“I’s definitely something I’m proud to have now,” Dermott said.
All eyes will be on Frederik Andersen this evening, as he makes his first NHL start in 60 days.
“Everyone is excited to have the Big Unit back in net. We gotta make sure we play smart and right in front of him,” Marner said. “I’m sure there’s times where he felt by himself, felt lonely and stuff like that, especially when we’re going on those road trips and he had to stay back.”
First playing through and then stepping back from action with a knee injury, Andersen has posted a 13-8-2 record and career-low .897 save percentage this season. He has essentially carried the load for this club since Toronto traded for and signed him five years ago, only to see Jack Campbell become the fans’ darling of late.
This will be Andersen’s final start before the post-season.
“I think Freddy knows a lot of guys in this room love him,” Marner said. “He’s grinded. He’s worked his butt off to get back into shape. We’re excited for him.”
Nick Foligno returns to action after missing two-and-a-half games with a re-aggravated and undisclosed injury. The winger could get his first look alongside John Tavares and William Nylander, the Leafs’ projected second line for Game 1 … Justin Holl took a maintenance day Tuesday but is ready to play … Jack Campbell will get the net for Toronto’s final regular-season game, Friday in Winnipeg.