TAMPA -- A rested and relaxed group of Toronto Maple Leafs, fresh from clinching their first berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs since 2004, visit the Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday at Tampa Bay Times Forum.
After nailing down the postseason spot Saturday night in Ottawa, the Maple Leafs had a chance to soak in what they had accomplished with three off days in Tampa.
"We've had a little bit of rest," Toronto defenseman John-Michael Liles said. "Sunday some of the guys played golf and some went out on a boat. Nothing too crazy, just trying to relax. It's nice to have the playoffs in your back pocket, but I think the main focus here is to move up in the standings and finish out the season strong. All year we've just been focusing on the next game and that's what we will continue to do, even with the playoffs clinched. It was nice to have these few days to kind of rest and get some sun, but now it's back to work."
Back to work indeed, because coach Randy Carlyle has every intention of keeping the pedal to the metal as the Maple Leafs look to finish off the regular season.
"Obviously we've had an ample days rest here," Carlyle said. "Hopefully our group is energized; they felt that way this morning with the morning skate, but sometimes the morning skate isn't really a true indicator of what happens, but we're looking for our guys to have an energized effort tonight."
There is every reason for the Maple Leafs to put forth an inspired effort, because home-ice advantage in the playoffs is theoretically in their reach.
"We're not going to really focus on the three games, we're going to focus on the first game," Carlyle said. "That's the most important one for us, and we've tried to stay with one game at a time. I know that sounds like an old cliché, but how else would you approach it?"
Lightning coach Jon Cooper, who took over the team with 15 regular-season games remaining, was casting an envious eye at the visiting Maple Leafs and Carlyle in particular.
"Randy Carlyle is the ultimate role model for me," Cooper said of the coach who took over Toronto with 18 games remaining last season. "I can't remember exactly what Randy's record was last year, but I don't think he set the world on fire. But I think he went through what I am going through now.
"It was an education for him and he found out who he liked and who he didn't. He clearly came in this year and made some changes that I think were unexpected, but he took the team upon himself and look where they are. If we can sit here next year and be in whatever seed the Leafs are in now, we'll take that all day."
Lightning forward Ryan Malone will sit out the game Wednesday. He had some difficult shifts against the Carolina Hurricanes on Sunday, including one turnover that led to a Carolina goal Cooper termed inexcusable.
"I've watched him go in spurts," Cooper said. "He's had some shifts where I thought he was asleep and some shifts where he was the best player on the ice. No fault of his own, he's been injured. Did he come back maybe too soon with a new coach and new era here? Probably he did, and I have to give him credit for that. I feel bad, the kid has just been battling through injuries."
But it isn't an injury or poor play that has Malone off the bench for this game. It is illness. The forward missed Tuesday's practice with a fever.
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