BOSTON -- Toronto Maple Leafs left wing James van Riemsdyk will celebrate a birthday Saturday, and despite the fact he'll turn 24 years old, he's already experienced in the battles associated with the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
A veteran of 40 playoff games, he knows the situation will get nastier before it gets any easier.
"That's the playoffs," van Riemsdyk said. "I mean, you are always going to get guys battling out there and guys finishing checks. I don't expect anything different [in Game 2] than what was out there [Wednesday]."
Late in the third period of Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals against the Boston Bruins, van Riemsdyk hopped onto the ice and the butt-end of his stick just happened to catch Bruins forward Brad Marchand in the midsection. Marchand took exception to the play with a spinning stick swing in the direction of van Riemsdyk, who never flinched.
It's safe to assume the battle lines have been drawn in this series and between these players.
"Those [1-on-1] battles are definitely fun," van Riemsdyk told NHL.com. "That brings out the best in guys out there. It's definitely intriguing as you watch other games during the whole playoffs. It's interesting to see guys go at it with each other … how hard they're playing."
Asked about the incident, van Riemsdyk shrugged it off as being part of postseason hockey.
"I was hopping off the bench so I didn't really see him until the last second, so he kind of caught me off guard a little bit and, I don't know, he took a swing … playoff hockey," van Riemsdyk said.
Marchand had a different view of the altercation.
"He speared me in the privates, so I kind of reacted … pretty simple," he said.
The Bruins are a familiar opponent to van Riemsdyk, who has been to the playoffs in all four of his NHL seasons. Prior to joining the Maple Leafs last June, he was with the Philadelphia Flyers. He played a big role when the team rallied from a 3-0 series deficit and a 3-0 hole in Game 7 to defeat the Bruins in seven games during the 2010 Eastern Conference Semifinals, scoring the first goal in the final game to trigger the last part of the historic comeback.
"It's tough to say that momentum is a key, but I think just playing more desperate then the other team is most important," van Riemsdyk said. "I think if momentum were to hold serve, we [the Flyers] probably would have been swept by Boston [in 2010]. But we were able to find a way to win that first one and get some confidence. We knew what we had to do."
Some say van Riemsdyk was Philadelphia's best forward during the team's four-game series loss to Boston in the 2011 Eastern Conference Semifinals; he scored three goals. He probably was Toronto's best player in its Game 1 loss Wednesday at TD Garden, scoring once and generating five shots on goal.
His experience and tough play certainly will come in handy the longer this series goes. After all, the Maple Leafs had 10 players making their playoff debuts Wednesday: Tyler Bozak, Mikhail Grabovski, Carl Gunnarsson, Nazem Kadri, Leo Komarov, Michael Kostka, Nikolai Kulemin, Clarke MacArthur, Frazer McLaren and goalie James Reimer.
So what does van Riemsdyk feel is the key to beating the Bruins?
"They are tough and don't really give you much as far as making mistakes and capitalizing off their turnovers," he said. "They play tight in their own end, so you really have to work hard to bury your chances when you get them."
He believes it's imperative the team playing from behind in a playoff series remains calm and continues to play to its strengths.
"You can never get too high or too low no matter what the situation," he said. "Even if you're down 0-2 and you're on the road for the first two games … so what? They're supposed to win their home games, so you have to stay even-keeled throughout the whole process. Just make sure you bring it every night."
The 6-foot-3, 200-pound player, who was taken by Philadelphia with the second pick of the 2007 NHL Draft, still feels that remarkable run with the Flyers in 2009-10, his rookie season, was his most memorable playoff experience.
"That whole run was special," he said. "It was my first year and we had a really tight-knit group of guys there. There's a lot of guys that I'll consider friends for the rest of my life, so that was definitely a lot of fun. The camaraderie you build with guys when you're battling that long is great. Our season was up and down going into the playoffs, so having a run like that was pretty special."
It's a run van Riemsdyk would like to see duplicated in Toronto.
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mikemorrealeNHL
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