TORONTO - The difference between riding the bus in the American Hockey League and jet setting with the big boys is nothing but a pulled groin or a twisted knee away. Always has been and always will be.
Nobody knows that better than the nine St. John's Maple Leafs, who have been shuffled between the Rock and the Big Smoke this year.
Those who have been up with Toronto got another taste of the NHL atmosphere when St. John's hosted the Providence Bruins at Air Canada Centre to open up their best-of-three, Eastern Conference qualifying series Wednesday night.
St. John's looked like they had been playing in Toronto all season, securing a 3-1 victory over the Bruins with a two-goal performance by AHL leading scorer Don MacLean.
Penalty trouble could have cost St. John's the win but Mikael Tellqvist, who replaced Sebastien Centomo in the third because of leg cramps, made some huge saves during a 5-on-3 disadvantage with the score 1-1.
After the first penalty had expired MacLean and Bobby House broke out on a 2-on-1 and when the defenceman took the pass away, the Los Angeles Kings draft choice made no mistake popping the short-handed winner.
MacLean iced it with an empty-netter. Alexei Ponikarovsky, who's played six games for Toronto this year, opened the scoring.
Giving up your regular fans and rink for your first playoff game is tough, especially when you've earned home ice but the players looked at is as an opportunity.
"I told them to soak it up," said Jeff Farkas, who didn't play because of a broken finger and has been up with the Leafs a few times. "You don't normally get the chance, especially as a minor league team to play in a big league dressing room.
"I think it's a great experience for guys to get a little taste of it and get hungry for it."
The baby Leafs were forced to play their home game away from Mile One Stadium because preparation for the Canadian Juno Awards (which recognizes accomplishments in music) has taken over the building.
Because so many guys have had experience at Air Canada Centre it wasn't that much of an adjustment for the team.
The most at home were Tellqvist and Anders Eriksson, who were just returned to the AHL on Monday. The familiarity of so many helped the guys that may have felt intimidated.
"I think everybody was excited to be in the room," Eriksson said. "It was kind of cool to come in and see the guys look around and go 'Wow!'. It was good in a way because it kept everybody on their toes, especially in a game like this."
Bob Wren, Marc Moro, Nathan Dempsey and Centomo are the others who have been part of Toronto's puzzle this year.
Several thousand fans took in the rare glance at the baby Buds, somewhere in the neighbourhood of 3,000-4,000 would be a good estimate. At that size the building wasn't lacking for noise. Familiar chants of "Go Leafs Go!" rang out a couple times and helped the mini-Leafs.
The teams hit the ice again tomorrow at the Brampton Sports Centre and there's one guarantee that can be made. The surroundings will not be a distraction.