Throughout the season NHL.com will be doing a weekly series called "Five Questions With …," a Q&A with some of the key figures in the game aimed at gaining insight into their lives and careers.
The Toronto Maple Leafs spent nearly a week in Florida after clinching a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2004. They were sheltered from the growing hysteria in their city. They only got second-hand information on what people were saying until they finally got back home last Friday.
"I would assume that after a nine-year absence everyone is really ready to rally behind our team and go on a special run," Maple Leafs left wing Joffrey Lupul told NHL.com.
Lupul would be correct, but just getting into the playoffs won't be enough for the postseason-starved fan base in Toronto. The euphoric feeling of being there will dissipate quickly if the Maple Leafs don't get off to a good start against the Boston Bruins in Game 1 Wednesday at TD Garden (7 p.m. ET, CNBC, CBC, RDS).
The Maple Leafs will have to handle the hype, hysteria and inevitable adversity. They will have to manage their emotions before games and play tight defense during them, something with which they have struggled to do during the season.
Lupul spoke to NHL.com about all of that in the latest installment of our Q&A series.
Here are Five Questions with … Joffrey Lupul:
The hysteria in Toronto will be something to marvel at with the playoffs back in the city. Do you want to embrace that hysteria or do you want to avoid it?
"I think everyone is different, but I want to embrace it. I love it. The city energizes me. I want to perform for them. You want to perform for yourself and your team, but having a whole city behind you comes with a little bit of added pressure and also some pretty big rewards. We have a chance to make this a really special time for millions of people."
When a team is successful you hear people say, 'The coach has pushed the right buttons.' What buttons has Randy Carlyle pushed this season to make the team successful?
"He's certainly pushed a lot. He has his own style of coaching, for sure. I mean, he's certainly not afraid to ruffle feathers. He's done a good job, especially with a player like Nazem Kadri. At the start of the year he was playing him a lot less, in sheltered minutes, really forcing him to earn his spot. Naz did a great job with it. You see Randy tinkering with the lineups. He's still tinkering with the [defense] pairs and our bottom two lines just to try to get the most out of the guys.
"The one thing you can say for sure about Randy is everyone earns their opportunity and their ice time. It doesn't matter who the guy is, he's expected to do his job, and if someone else is, let's say less experienced or younger, and that guy outplays him, he's going to take the job. There is certainly some accountability as far as that goes."
Do you look at the defense as a concern? Or if it's not, why isn't it a concern?
"I would say defense is a concern for us, for sure. But I would also say the same thing for probably every team that is entering the playoffs now. You need to play a tight, defensive game in the playoffs. You're not going to see a lot of 5-4 or 5-3 games. So it's definitely a focal point for us. A positive for us is we don't feel like we're ever out of a hockey game. If we get down 2-0, in our room, we know we can score goals and we can score them quick.
"Again, defense is what we have to focus on. We're confident, but we're still working. Every day in practice we're doing video and defensive-zone coverage to try to get much better at it. We've been good in stretches, but overall we can certainly be better."
The goalie is always the X-factor and James Reimer never has played a playoff game, making him a wild card as well. However, nothing seems to faze him; not controversy, not the trade deadline, not questions over whether he's going to start.
"He's had kind of an up-and-down time here in Toronto. When I first got here, I remember he was on the top of the world and was really carrying the team, almost got us back into the playoff race two years ago. Then last year he had a concussion and never rebounded and played the way he would have liked and the way the team probably expected him to. As a credit to him, he just went back and worked harder and didn't let it faze him. He came back this year with a lot of confidence.
"One thing you can say for both of our goalies [Reimer and Ben Scrivens], whenever they have had a rough night, let in some bad goals or just had a bad game in general, they have both bounced back every time. I think that's exactly what you want to see from a goaltender and just from young players in general. We've got a lot of confidence in Reims, and I think his mental game, as you mentioned, is very strong. If something happens in the playoffs where things aren't going right for him, he has the ability to clear his mind and play better the next game."
This is all new to him, but do you think he has the capacity to be a guy who can steal a game in the playoffs, perhaps even a series?
"We don't really know. This is when you make a name for yourself, really. There are guys on our team that didn't have the season they would have liked to, but everyone will forget about that if you have one playoff series. It's cool. That's why the playoffs are great. It's a clean slate for everyone. We're not going to ask Reims to steal a playoff game or a series, but he has stolen us games before this year. We played a game against New Jersey when we were brutal and he got us two points. If you're asking is he capable of it, I would say for sure he is."