Young Leafs won't let inexperience hinder them as they enter playoffs
Leo Komarov has no NHL playoff experience, but has played plenty in the KHL. (Martin Chevalier/QMI Agency)
A lot has been made about the fact that there is not a ton of NHL playoff experience on this young Maple Leafs roster.
There are some exceptions, and some of the guys who have visited the post-season in the NHL have played well, including Phil Kessel, who has nine goals and six assists in 15 playoffs games for the Boston Bruins, and Joffrey Lupul, with 14 goals and nine assists in 39 playoff games with Anaheim and Philadelphia. James van Riemsdyk also has played 39 times in the NHL post-season, John-Michael Liles has played 36 games in the playoffs, Ryan O’Byrne 19, Cody Franson 16.
Still, compared with some other teams heading into the post-season next week, the Leafs are definitely one of the least experienced.
One Leaf who has never played in the NHL playoffs is agitator extraordinaire Leo Komarov, who is winding up his first regular season in the NHL. But that’s not to say Komarov doesn’t have a good idea of what it takes to perform at a high level in the post-season.
While the 26-year-old Finn has never tasted life in the NHL playoffs, he certainly has a terrific playoff pedigree and is probably someone coach Randy Carlyle will lean on when the playoffs begin next week. Komarov hasn’t played in the NHL playoffs, but he’s done the next best thing — won a title in the world’s second-best professional hockey league, the KHL. And he’s shown that he’s a “playoff performer”, for lack of a better term.
Komarov was a member of the Moscow Dynamo team last season that, after finishing third in the regular season in the KHL’s Eastern Conference, charged through four rounds of playoffs to win the league championship, the Gagarin Cup. And he did it playing his style of game.
In 20 playoff games, Komarov contributed five goals and seven points for Dynamo, who defeated Traktor Chelyabinsk 4 games to 2 in the final after losing the first two games of the series. He also used his physicality in a big way, recording a team-leading 49 penalty minutes. On top of that, Komarov also won a world championship for Finland in 2011. So while he’s never been in the NHL playoffs, the personable Finn certainly has an understanding of what it takes to succeed in a high-pressure situation. He even gets the playoff beard thing, growing one himself last season.
“Mine was pretty good,” he said with a laugh.
Komarov certainly isn’t the bragging type, but he does, with some reluctance, consider himself the kind of player who rises to the occasion when it matters most, i.e. the playoffs.
“I’ve been playing eight years as a pro and I’ve never missed the playoffs,” said Komarov, following a team practice at the MasterCard Centre on Friday. “I’m used to the playoffs.
“But every league, every game is different,” he added. “You just have to be ready to play.”
For younger Leafs such as forward Nazem Kadri, the hope is to channel past playoff experiences in other leagues to prepare for the NHL post-season — in Kadri’s case, the AHL last season with the Marlies (where he recorded 10 points in 11 games) and the OHL, where he had a whopping 76 playoff points in 55 games for Kitchener and London.
“I don’t think it matters what level you’re playing at, I think it always get stepped up a notch when the playoffs come,” said Kadri, the Leafs’ second-leading scorer this season with 44 points. “I had a long run last year with the Marlies, and that’s a professional league. So I think that prepared me well.
“I’ve always played pretty well in the playoffs and I’ve always tried to rise to the occasion and I want to be one of those players that this team counts on to win them games,” added the 22-year-old. “Now I have to prepare myself a little differently, but I’ll be ready when it starts.”
Kadri said the Leafs are certainly not going to use a lack of NHL playoff experience as a crutch heading into next week’s post-season.
“We’re going to prepare the same way as we always have,” he said. “Everyone understands how crucial and how magnified each single game is, each single shift is in the playoffs, so I think we’re going to do a great job preparing ourselves. That’s really the most important thing, the preparation and making sure we’re sticking to our game plan because if we do that, I think we’ll be fine.”
Of course, having a coach who has won a Stanley Cup (2007 with Anaheim) and has coached 62 games in the NHL playoffs doesn’t hurt.