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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs, who practised at the MasterCard Centre on Monday. 

An intriguing scene played out at the end of practice on Monday as Mike Babcock called Auston Matthews over and delivered a message. The Leafs head coach did all the talking while the star centre listened for about 40 seconds. They both wore serious expressions.

So, what was that all about? 

"You think I'm going to tell you?" Matthews shot back at the questioner. 

Coach, care to shed some light on this? 

"No," Babcock stated flatly before smiling, "but thanks for asking, I appreciate it. But you guys go ahead and speculate."

Welcome to the playoffs in the centre of the hockey universe where everything is under the microscope. And the seats are a little warmer than usual here considering what happened last season. Matthews led the Leafs in shots (27), but was held to one goal and one assist during the seven-game loss to Boston. After​wards questions were raised about his relationship with Babcock and the coach flew to Arizona for a meeting. 

Now, Babcock and Matthews are again in the spotlight getting ready for another battle with the Bruins. Matthews confirmed that redemption is on his mind. 

"Everybody on this team is going into this very hungry," the 21-year-old said. "We want to make up for last year. We felt it could've gone either way there in that last game and to not move on was really frustrating, left a bitter taste in a lot of our mouthes so we definitely want to use that as motivation."

"Last year's last year," said Babcock, "there’s no sense spending any time on that. They have a different team, we have a different team and our guys are growing and they're going to get older and they’re going to get better and some of those losses in life, those little hardships are the best things for you. They allow you to grow and make you grow."

Matthews took a big step forward in his development this season posting a career-high 73 points despite missing 14 games with a shoulder injury.

"I just feel better overall physically, mentally, going into it these last couple weeks, couple months," he said. "I just feel, you know, just I guess more free in a way … Just mentally going out there and not thinking too much, just playing hockey and trusting in my abilities and instincts and just going out there and playing and not overthinking, just having fun."

Last year, Matthews missed time with three separate ailments, including a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined from Feb. 22 to March 22. This year, his lone injury absence occurred early in the season and he's played every game since Nov. 28. 

"No. 1 is he's skating twice as good," noted Babcock when asked how Matthews has grown. "He's way more physical on offence. If you're a rush player it’s not as much fun at this time of year, nothing much happens for you, so his game's come a long way. You got to remember he’s just a young player in the league."

The third-year forward seemed to really hit his stride down the stretch scoring seven goals and adding six assists in the final 14 games.

"Just demanding the puck more from our D," Matthews said in explaining his evolution, "and carrying it myself whether it’s chipping it into the zone and getting after it or taking it in myself. I think that’s more of a confidence thing as well ... Last probably 15 games or so just the energy level and the skating for myself and just competitiveness every night was pretty solid and I want to continue that and take my game to another level here come Thursday."

Asked if he had a broader message for Matthews heading into the playoffs, Babcock hit on a familiar refrain. 

"There’s going to be no room, there’s going to be no time, there’s going to be no space and the better player you are the less there’s going to be and so you have to understand what the playoffs are about and what it’s going to take to be successful and our whole team has to. Early in the season, when we were fun to watch and it’s racing around, there's tons of room, it's a lot of fun, your sweater’s flapping, it feels good, it’s just not real. It’s just not living in the real world. The real world's coming right away here. No time. No space."

And no reason to live in the past. 

"We're not looking at it like we’re underdogs," Matthews said. "I think we know we can play with this team and compete at their level regardless of what the standings are."


The Leafs didn’t look ready to go last year, losing Games 1 and 2 in Boston by four goals each. It was the first time all season that Toronto lost by that big a margin. Is there something about the TD Garden that rattles the players? 

"I wouldn't say (we're) intimidated," centre Nazem Kadri told a group of reporters including Leafs Nation Network. "This is a team that's confident and isn't scared of anything and we want to embrace the challenge. We've been a good road team this year so we believe in ourselves to go get it done.” 

The Leafs matched a franchise record with 23 road wins this season. 

"As much as we say it's a, 'hostile environment,' I haven't seen a fan play yet," Babcock said. "It's going to be on the ice, for sure. It's going to be amongst two teams and they know what we're about and we know what they're about and now we have to go out and execute and make it happen. There's going to be moments in the game where they have momentum and don't do anything silly, just be patient and play. And that patience that you talk about, we can all talk about it, but sometimes you got to go through it to understand what it’s all about."


For the first time since last Monday’s game against the New York Islanders, Jake Muzzin joined his teammates on the ice. The defenceman had been sidelined by an illness missing the final three games of the regular season.  

"It's important to get a little rest and you want to feel as close to 100 per cent as you can going into playoffs and that's kind of where we’re at," he said. 

Muzzin was paired with Nikita Zaitsev at practice. 

"They play hard. Real hard," Babcock said of the duo. "Muzz moves the puck for him. Z closes better than anybody on our team. He’s got better edges and is better defensively that way than anybody else, gives less time and space. They’re both not going to be backed off by anybody and have moved the puck well enough that we’re not spending a ton of time in our own zone. That’s critical for our success."

Acquired in a January trade from the Los Angeles Kings, Muzzin is one of two Leafs players with a Stanley Cup ring, with the other being Ron Hainsey

"What I've learned is that whoever wants it the most, at the end of the day, wins the games," Muzzin said. "Structurally everyone's set, you know, and lineups and power play and penalty kill and all the situations are what they are, but whoever executes and wants it the most will win."

How hungry for success are his teammates? 

"These guys are hungry, man. Yeah. They want to prove themselves, they want to win and so do I so let's go."

Muzzin isn’t just playoff tested, he looks playoff ready thanks to his thick beard. So, how does he handle the playoff beard tradition? 

"It will get bigger," he said with a grin. 


Lines at Monday’s practice: 

Petan, Ennis 



Power play units at Monday’s practice: