Jake Muzzin knows about closing out series in the Stanley Cup playoffs. The Maple Leafs defenceman won a Stanley Cup as a member of the L.A. Kings in 2014 and is one of just four players in Toronto’s room to play past the first round in the post-season.
Muzzin’s message to his teammates ahead of Sunday’s Game 6 against Boston was simple: don’t be tentative.
“You don’t sit back, that’s for sure. You go after it,” he said Saturday after an optional skate at Scotiabank Arena. “You go after it and it’s the toughest game to win because they’re desperate alright. So we have to be just as desperate and hungry. We can’t sit back and let them take the game to us.
“We have to go out and play our game and use home ice tomorrow as our advantage.”
The Maple Leafs edged the hometown Bruins 2-1 on Friday night to take a 3-2 series lead. Toronto is one win away from advancing to the second round for the first time since 2004.
Muzzin, Ron Hainsey, Patrick Marleau and John Tavares are the only members of the current Leafs roster with previous experience winning that elusive fourth game in a best-of-seven series. The Maple Leafs and Florida Panthers are the only teams in the salary-cap era who have not advanced to the second round.
In 2016, Tavares helped the New York Islanders close out the Florida Panthers in six games. The Islanders needed double overtime in Games 5 and 6 to advance.
“It’s such a fine line, but that’s all you keep focusing on: that next shift and the next opportunity,” said Tavares. “You never quit, you never stop competing until it’s over. When I was in that situation, we tied it late and won it in overtime.
“It’s a good experience to draw on and go out there and focus and prepare as best you can.”
For Leafs coach Mike Babcock, closing out the series against the Bruins would be the next step in the maturation process for his group.
“For sure, but it’s always the hardest,” Babcock said. “You know, there hasn’t been a whole lot of momentum carried in the series. There’s actually been none. So I think it’s important we understand how we have to play and get prepared to do that and then play.
“I think it’s important to enjoy the crowd and the atmosphere and all that, but we’ve got to get down to business and take care of the puck.”
Puck drop is set for 3 p.m. on Sunday. It’s Toronto’s earliest start since a Jan. 2 game against the Minnesota Wild, which the Maple Leafs lost 4-3. Boston, meanwhile, played 12 afternoon games in the regular season.
Maple Leafs forward Auston Matthews said the start time doesn’t change much when it comes to pre-game preparation.
“I guess no nap, but that’s about it,” he said.
Notes: Marleau and Zach Hyman were the lone Maple Leafs not to take part in the optional skate. Babcock said both were expected to play Sunday. … Toronto’s last series win was a seven-game victory over the Ottawa Senators in 2004.
Dhiren Mahiban, The Canadian Press