If you need more evidence that the playoffs stand in polar opposite to the regular season, consider this fact.
Nazem Kadri doesn’t have to stand out. He doesn’t mind at all.
Going into the post-season, it was assumed the Leafs needed Kadri to counter what had been a dominant streak of play by the Bruins in handling the Leafs number one line.
The thinking was with the number one line of Tyler Bozak, Phil Kessel and either Joffrey Lupul or James van Riemsdyk more or less tied up, secondary scoring from Kadri, who delivered 44 points in 48 regular season games, would be at a premium.
No one anticipated Randy Carlyle would rewrite the script so radically by yanking Matt Frattin from the press box and putting him with Bozak and Lupul. That left Kessel with Kadri and another Game 1 scratch, Marlies captain Ryan Hamilton.
Freed, momentarily from Zdeno Chara, Kessel broke free of his check early in the third period, cradled a sublime pass from Kadri and plunked the third Leafs goal behind Tuukka Rask.
It was really the only moment you noticed Kadri which in its own way spoke volumes of the 22-year-old’s maturation.
“The biggest difference for me between Game 1 and 2 was managing the puck,” he said after the Leafs skipped practice for a film session, Sunday.
“In the first game I think I was trying to make the perfect play a little too often. Sometimes for me as a player when I don’t feel like I’m in the game I try to make something happen myself and sometimes steer myself into some difficulty.”
In other words, even for a player as flashy as Kadri, less can be more.
If the Leafs show well in this first round it will because of Carlyle’s gut feeling about the lineup and his almost pathological line-matching but that doesn’t work unless the Leafs execute the new combinations.
Kadri said the Leafs had to be particularly mindful in Game 2 because the truncated shifts and different combinations that flowed from Carlyle.
“It’s hard to get yourself in the game when you’re that active in changing lines but we did a great job sticking with it,” he said. “We got a bunch of scoring chances out of it. That’s playoff hockey. You’ve got to match some lines and give yourself the best opportunity to win the game.”
Now the Leafs return to what will no doubt be a hero’s welcome for Game 3.
“It’s going to be crazy we assume. It’s been a long time since the playoffs have come to this city,” Kadri said. “We expect it to be a pretty loud atmosphere and we’re going to try and use them as the seventh man.”
It has been, of course, nine years since a game of this import was played in Toronto.
“Usually at this time I’m playing in the World Championships,” said Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski, a fierce combatant in the games in Boston. “I’m looking forward to playing in our building.”
He was reminded that people have been waiting a long time for a night like Monday. Grabovski, a man of very few words, at least English words, eloquently summed up the moment for Kadri and the rest.
“Me too,” he said.