TORONTO -- A year ago they were immersed in the American Hockey League playoffs with the Toronto Marlies, well on their way to the Calder Cup final.
Although the Marlies were swept in the final by the Norfolk Admirals, forwards Nazem Kadri and Matt Frattin, along with defenseman Jake Gardiner, all gained valuable playoff experience. Now they are three players the Toronto Maple Leafs hope can help catapult them into the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Maple Leafs trail the Boston Bruins 2-1 in their Eastern Conference Quarterfinal series, with Game 4 here Wednesday (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, RDS).
Gardiner made a positive and negative impact in Game 3, a 5-2 Boston victory, scoring a goal and carrying the puck out of danger in the latter part of the game. The bad news was he was guilty of a few costly giveaways early on. Frattin has one assist in two games and went from being a healthy scratch to being in the team's top six forwards, and Kadri has one assist in three games but looked tired and ineffective in Game 3.
Gardiner went from being on the NHL's All-Rookie team last season to starting 2012-13 in the minors then being a healthy scratch on many nights after being called up to the Maple Leafs. At this stage of his career he often is described as high-risk/high-return, but when he's on his game he can be a difference-maker because of his speed and offensive instincts.
"The more games that Jake has played, specifically the two in the playoffs, the mistakes that he has made are much more manageable," Maple Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said. "His positive side was much more noticeable. His positives are far outweighing his negatives. Hopefully that is a sign that a young player is developing and he separates himself with some of the things he does out there with his acting and puck-moving ability. We just want to limit some of the mistakes, and if he continues along this line it is very noticeable that he is having an impact on the game."
Gardiner generally is not a man of many words, but he said playing in the playoffs definitely is a learning experience for a young player.
"I'm learning that playoff hockey at this level is pretty crazy," Gardiner said. "It's intense. Everyone is bringing their all. I've watched playoffs in the past and guys want to win so they'll do anything they can to do that. As for the intensity, it's pretty similar. At any level guys want to win championships. That's why they play the game. In terms of differences, you look at the Bruins and all their forwards are so big and strong. It's not necessarily like that in the AHL."
Frattin blew out his knee in the AHL playoffs last year and was slow coming around this season. But like Gardiner, he is a superior skater who plays physically. Asked the difference between what he experienced in the postseason with the Marlies last year and the Maple Leafs now, Frattin said, "This is the NHL. I mean, the environment is that much more exciting and there's a lot more energy in the buildings we have played in. Boston had an amazing atmosphere, and so did Toronto in Game 3."
Kadri enjoyed a breakout season in the NHL, totaling 18 goals and 44 points in 48 games. The Maple Leafs' first pick (No. 7) at the 2009 NHL Draft also said the intensity between the AHL and NHL playoffs is comparable.
“It’s the same concept in terms of being tight checking," Kadri said, "and goals are hard to come by. You have to make sure you bring your best in an effort to win every game."
Here are the expected lineups for Game 4:
Injured: Michael Kostka (finger)