Confident, young Maple Leafs are thriving in underdog role

Posted: 18/04/2017 in NHL, Sports
Tags: , , , ,

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There is no shortage of confidence in the Maple Leafs‘ locker room following their Game 3 overtime defeat of the Washington Capitals. Nor should there be.

The Leafs, who squeaked into the playoffs as the second wild-card team, now hold a 2-1 series lead against the Presidents’ Trophy winning Washington Capitals.

“That’s been the feeling the whole time,” said defenseman Morgan Rielly, when asked if the Leafs are starting to believe they can win this series, per TSN’s Kristen Shilton. “That hasn’t changed.”

As a team who had already far and away exceeded preseason expectations, the Leafs were a squad no top seed wanted to match up against since they really have nothing to lose. However, next to nobody thought an inexperienced team like Toronto could actually hang with a team that is built to win right now.

They may be young and don’t know any better, but here they are, instilling doubt in the minds of a team that won 55 games during the regular season.

Nazem Kadri, who assisted on the OT winner, triples as Toronto’s shutdown center, a reliable offensive producer, and a super pest. He and his linemates, Leo Komarov and Connor Brown, have been given the task of shutting down Washington’s top line featuring Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Ovechkin, and T.J. Oshie.

“Maybe a little bit,” Kadri told TSN’s Mark Masters, when asked if he is sensing frustration from Washington’s prolific scoring line. “When you play hard against them, that’s a natural reaction.”

With multiple major pending free agents this summer, including Oshie, Karl Alzner, and Kevin Shattenkirk, the Caps are in “Stanley Cup or bust” mode. That amount of pressure can be extremely difficult to play with.

“I’m sure it’s frustrating. I mean, they won the Presidents’ Trophy. This is (supposed to be) their year,” Auston Matthews told Masters.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, the abnormal lack of pressure the Leafs are facing has allowed them to play their game, despite the inexperience.

“It’s never bad to be in an underdog position, there’s a little less pressure,” said Tyler Bozak, Toronto’s longest serving player who scored the game-winner, according to Masters. “We believe in ourselves in here.”

Coming back from a 3-1 deficit, the Leafs have every right to believe in themselves. Their speed and skill have proved problematic for the Capitals.

You can expect the Buds to carry this swagger into Game 4 on Wednesday night.

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