Corey Hirsch column: Young Maple Leafs won't be an easy playoff foe
Saturday night, the new kids on the block lifted the Maple Leafs into the playoffs - and rest assured, Leafs Nation, this is an entirely different Toronto playoff team: young, fast, and skilled with absolutely zero pressure.
So what is it going to be like for teams that have to face these fresh-faced kids vying for what I consider the world's hardest trophy to win?
Let me start by saying these kids have no clue what’s in front of them, and how hard it is to capture the Stanley Cup - and that’s a good thing. Being this wet behind the ears means they won’t feel any pressure. It's a team of young players with nothing to lose, and will make life miserable for any team that plays it.
The Washington Capitals are probably happy to face such a young, inexperienced team in the first round. But they're about to learn it will be like chasing a toddler around for two-and-a-half hours. They’ll most likely win in the end, but they will be completely exhausted and ready to tap out when that happens.
I can only assume it will be like when I play forward in men’s league, and some of my son's Midget AAA teammates come out to play with us fat old guys. I chase them around for an hour, don’t touch the puck, and by the end, I’m ready to throw up.
(Photo courtesy: Getty Images)
Okay, those are bad examples. But I do recall playing in my first Stanley Cup playoffs for the Vancouver Canucks in 1996 against the eventual Stanley Cup champion Colorado Avalanche. I was so young and naive, I had no clue what I was in store for. They had Joe Sakic and Peter Forsberg, and across from me at the other end was future Hall-of-Fame goalie Patrick Roy.
Back then it was just another game; I had nothing to lose and I felt no pressure. Kirk McLean had struggled in Game 1 and I wasn’t even supposed to be playing. I was a young kid, and in my mind I was going to get another 20 chances at a Stanley Cup.
Well, unfortunately for me, that turned out to be the only chance I got. So if you put me in that situation today and I knew what I know now, I would be a nervous wreck knowing that may be the only chance I’d ever get.
This Leafs team, though, is different. Over the course of time, Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, and William Nylander will eventually win at least one Stanley Cup. Yes, you read that correctly. I predict that this core group will win a Stanley Cup. They remind me a lot of the Chicago Blackhawks. Marner and Matthews sure seem a lot like Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. When I think of Nylander, Marian Hossa comes to mind.
(Photo courtesy: Action Images)
Yes it’s early in their careers, they are young, and will most likely be a first-round knockout, but that’s okay. The experience they gain just from getting a taste of the playoffs will make them hungry for even more.
I would give my left arm to play in another Stanley Cup playoff game. It was the greatest experience of my life. The atmosphere, the people, the electricity in the building, it’s nothing even remotely like a regular-season game. The first round of the NHL playoffs are the best in any sport.
For these young kids, it's about enjoying the experience, and learning something from it. This team wasn’t even supposed to make the playoffs.
Oh, and one last thing ... is anyone complaining about them going fishing in Florida now?