Playoff hockey returns to Toronto

TORONTO -- This city hasn't tasted the Stanley Cup playoffs in nine years, which is a shame for this hockey hotbed.

That will change Monday when the puck drops on Game 3 of the Eastern Conference quarterfinal series between the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs at Air Canada Centre. The last time the Maple Leafs reached the postseason was the 2003-2004 season, when they lost in the conference semifinals to the Philadelphia Flyers, 4-2.

After Boston defeated Toronto 4-1 in Game 1 of this series, the Maple Leafs rebounded with an impressive 4-2 win in Game 2 on Saturday night at TD Garden. Toronto, its team and its fans are ready for playoff hockey.

The Air Canada Centre should no doubt be an incredibly loud building Monday, especially with this series even at one game apiece.

"It's great that our fans are enthusiastic and all of the passion that our fans do demonstrate," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "We think it's a great thing for our city, but again we've got a job to do. We've got to focus and the game is won on the ice and that's what we said. There's going to be a lot of, I guess, media coverage and a lot of things said and a lot of things done, but we have to stay focused on what we can control and we have to prepare ourselves to play a better Boston hockey club on Monday. I guarantee you they will be better than they were [Saturday]."

The Bruins dominated the Maple Leafs in Game 1 with a performance similar to Boston's brand of hockey during its Cup run in 2011. However, Game 2 was completely different for the Bruins as the Maple Leafs played a much better game. Game 3 has the makings of an emotional matchup in an environment that should be second to none.

Bruins forward Tyler Seguin is a native son of Brampton, Ontario, and grew up a Maple Leafs fan. Unless you've been living under a Zamboni, you know Seguin became a Bruin when Boston acquired the Maple Leafs' 2010 and 2011 first-round draft picks in exchange for forward Phil Kessel.

The Bruins selected Seguin in 2010, and followed that up by picking another Toronto native, defenseman Dougie Hamilton, in 2011. As soon as this series was scheduled, Seguin said he had to turn his phone off and has stopped using Twitter because of all his friends and family looking for tickets.

"It's a playoff game here, so I'm not thinking about too much stuff other than what I can control," Seguin said.

Even though he'll be playing in front of his hometown, Seguin doesn't think there will be too many distractions. But he understands how lively the ACC will be Monday night.

"It'll be loud," Seguin said. "It would make it even more exciting just because it's Toronto and it's my hometown. It's where I've watched many hockey games growing up as a kid, so it'll feel like I'm playing in my own rink."

During Game 2 of this series, Seguin played a more physical game than he has in a while. He was winning races to the puck and creating traffic in front of the net. It's only his third season in the NHL, but the 21-year-old forward knows what he needs to do in order to help the Bruins win.

"It's playoff hockey, so teams and individuals players, to be successful, you've got to get out of your comfort zone, whether that's finishing more checks or going to the net, which I still think I need to do a better job of but that's what you have to do," Seguin said.

During the 2011 Cup run, the Bruins faced adversity early in the playoffs when they dropped the first two games of the quarterfinals to the Montreal Canadiens in Boston. The Bruins arrived in hostile territory and evened the series at two games apiece with a pair of wins at Bell Centre.

The atmosphere in that building was incredible. On Monday in Toronto, it should be even greater, given the Maple Leafs haven't been in the playoffs since 2004.

Bruins forward Milan Lucic believes the Bruins can feed off the environment, no matter the venue.

"You've got to embrace the challenge that's ahead of you and you've got to be excited about it and look forward to it," Lucic said. "Looking at the situation we were in [in 2011] compared to this situation, it's got to come from within. It's got be done on the ice and there has to be a commitment from all 20 guys on the ice and that's what we had going into Montreal. It was probably the worst-case scenario for us because at the time we had lost five straight in Montreal, so going into a situation like that we knew it was all or nothing and it's pretty much the same situation here.

"We've got to go in with that same mentality where it's all or nothing. We've got to put everything on the line or it can end shortly."

In 2011, the Bruins silenced the Canadiens fans at Bell Centre. Boston then swept the Flyers and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games en route to a Stanley Cup matchup against the Vancouver Canucks.

In the finals, the home team won every game until Game 7, when the Bruins hoisted the Cup on Rogers Arena ice in Vancouver. Boston has the experience to compete and be successful in any situation, so it's going to be interesting to watch Game 3 Monday night at ACC.

"What makes the game great, as much as it is fun and awesome to get your crowd cheering when you make a big play or score a goal and they're cheering, but to silence a crowd is a different feeling, it's cool," Lucic said. "It's tough to explain, it's almost an accomplishment. You have to do your best to feed off an opposing crowd and kind of get yourself going as you would off your home crowd. There's a lot to look forward to heading into a building like that where there hasn't been playoff hockey in nine years. It's a place that's been sold-out for a number of years and you expect the crowd noise to go up another level heading into the playoffs."

These fans have been waiting too long for playoff hockey, and the Bruins are prepared for the bee's nest.

"I've been in a lot of situations in my career dealing with a lot of crowds, and I think it's something to look forward to more than anything," Lucic said.