Injuries a growing concern for playoff-bound Leafs
April 10, 2017, 7:44 PM ET [24 Comments]
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The Toronto Maple Leafs achieved the unexpected, finishing the 2016-17 regular season with 95 points and in the top eight of the Eastern Conference, but a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the season finale on Sunday not only cost the Leafs a more favorable match up in the first round, but added two more players to the injury list.
Toronto led 2-0 on a pair of James van Riemsdyk goals early in the second period, but the Blue Jackets replied with three tallies on backup Curtis McElhinney before the middle frame was completed.
The Leafs needed a single point to move past Boston into third place in the Atlantic Division to face the injury-riddled Ottawa Senators, but the club was emotionally spent after clinching a postseason berth against Pittsburgh on Saturday according to head coach Mike Babcock.
“I thought we started okay, got a power play for four minutes and after that they kind of sucked the life out of us. Tonight was disappointing in that way.” Babcock said. “In saying all that, if you'd have told me at the start that we could be in this situation we're in right now, obviously I would have done a little jig. So, I'm thrilled with the progress of our team.”
Boston held the tiebreaker in regulation/overtime wins and that kept Toronto in the second wildcard spot, which means they will face the Washington Capitals in the first round.
“We've drawn a real good team and we're going to find out what playoff hockey is in a hurry. We're going to find out it's much different than regular season hockey.” Babcock said. “You might as well figure that out quick. I'll do my best over the next couple of days to explain what's going to happen. They're not going to believe me and then it's going to happen.”
Washington finished with 118 points, good enough to win their second-straight President’s Trophy and loaded up at the trade deadline by acquiring defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk from St. Louis.
Toronto played most of the second half of Sunday’s game without defensemen Nikita Zaitsev and Roman Polak. Zaitsev staggered to the Leafs dressing room late in the first period after being hit into the boards by Nick Foligno and did not return, while Polak hobbled to the bench after getting tangled up with Boone Jenner and played only a few shifts in the third period.
Babcock downplayed the injury to Zaitsev and was not concerned that the blueliner would not miss any time, but that was similar to the head coach’s comments following goalie Frederik Andersen’s injury on Saturday and the Leafs starter did not dress on Sunday.
The Leafs were given the day off on Monday, so practice on Tuesday at MasterCard Center will be the first indication of how serious the injuries are to Andersen, Zaitsev and Polak.
You can officially call the Maple Leafs rookie class the Bonus Babies, as five of them hit their mark on bonuses in their contracts.
Presumptive Calder Trophy winner Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander all reached the maximum $850,000 of their Schedule A bonuses according to Sportsnet’s Chris Johnston, and Matthews also attained the total $2 Million of his Schedule B bonuses.
Zaitsev($637,500) and forward Connor Brown ($182,500) also earned extra cash, which will count against next year’s salary cap, but the Leafs can clear over $10 Million in cap space by assigning Nathan Horton and Joffrey Lupul to LTIR.