Leafs make room for fun without reservations: Feschuk

As they wrapped up another team meeting and an optional off-day practice at their Etobicoke practice rink, the Maple Leafs headed back on the road Thursday. Their loved ones could have been convinced they’d been gone all along. As part of the organization’s post-season strategy, the Leafs have been staying together at a downtown Toronto hotel on the nights before playoff home games. So home games are being made to feel a little like road games, complete with a team bus to the rink, communal team meals and common rooms set up for formal meetings and relaxed lounging. Which seems fine with the bulk of a young Maple Leafs roster heavy on bachelors who live alone in downtown condos and often subsist on takeout.“I think they want us talking to each other about the games, about the series, supporting each other,” said Connor Carrick, among 10 Maple Leafs who’ve made their playoff debuts this spring. “For a lot of guys, it’s their first time. How do you handle failure? How do you handle success, personally and as a team? It’s a great opportunity to get together and talk about that stuff.”Certainly it’s working well enough. The underdog Leafs, who moved their operation to a hotel in Washington, D.C. in the lead-up to Friday’s Game 5 against the Capitals at the Verizon Center, find themselves in a situation beyond favourable.Article Continued Below“I think if you told our guys at the start of the series and said it was 2-2 and we’re going into a best-of-three, they’d all do a cartwheel if they knew how,” said Mike Babcock, the Toronto coach. “I couldn’t do it; I’d hurt my back. But we’re in a great situation. Let’s enjoy today. Let’s enjoy the atmosphere. Let’s enjoy the playoffs, but let’s compete.”Toronto’s accommodation arrangement is not a new invention. NHL teams have been reserving blocks of hometown rooms for years during the playoffs. The New Jersey Devils were proponents of the practice during the management tenure of Lou Lamoriello, now the Leafs GM. Ditto the Detroit Red Wings during current Leafs president Brendan Shanahan’s time as a hall-of-fame-bound forward. Guy Boucher, now the Ottawa Senators coach, tried it during his run with the Tampa Bay Lightning a few years back.“Bubble hockey,” Boucher called it. As in, “anything outside (the bubble) can’t affect our game.”