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Leafs look to build on momentum

by Adam Proteau / Toronto Maple Leafs

A more relaxed group of Maple Leafs took the ice early Wednesday in preparation for their tilt later that night against the visiting Winnipeg Jets. A solid win – like the 4-1 victory the Buds earned Monday over the high-octane Dallas Stars – has a way of lightening the mood in the dressing room.

“We’re definitely more upbeat after the win against Dallas,” said Daniel Winnik. “I don’t think it was the third period we really wanted – they really came at us in waves and we kind of just deflected it and tried to hang on – but overall I thought we did a good job.”

“As a group we might have a little more confidence going into the game,” added defenceman Morgan Rielly. “We’re happy with the way we played and the result, so we’re going to try to keep it rolling.”

There are always things to improve – for instance, the Stars outshot the Buds 13-6 in the final period and 44-26 on the night – but Leafs players also are realistic and respect the abilities of the opposition’s players.

“That’s a very dynamic offensive team,” Winnik said of Dallas. “They’ve got D that are active – that (defenseman John) Klingberg is extremely good with the puck at the blueline – and you see when they play in the (offensive) zone, everyone’s all over the place and it generates lots of shots.”

“You never want to give up 40-plus shots,” said goalie James Reimer, who won his second game of the year Monday and will get the start against the Jets. “I think we played a team that’s high offensive, so they’re going to get lots of chances, lots of shots no matter how well you play. I think we stick to it tonight against Winnipeg, and I think maybe some of those shot totals should come down. But our structure’s been really good, and if we keep that up, it should give us a chance.”

While this week’s schedule of games remains particularly onerous – after they take on Winnipeg at Air Canada Centre, Toronto hosts the Red Wings Friday, then heads to Washington immediately after the game to take on the dangerous Capitals the next night – Leafs players and management fully understand the challenge is the same regardless of their particular circumstance at any given moment: maintaining a focus on the opponent at hand, while maintaining an even keel and determination regardless of the results.

“You can’t get too high or too low with these wins and losses, but we want to keep playing the way we were,” said Rielly, whose one-goal, three-point performance Monday vaulted him into the Leafs’ point-scoring lead with eight in 11 games. “The mood’s good right now, we’ve got confidence in our game, and we want to keep doing it.”

If they are to keep doing it, they’ll need to beat a spirited Jets squad currently sitting seventh in the competitive Western Conference. And nothing less than a similar effort to the one they put in against Dallas will do.

“They’ve got active D who like to shoot and get in the rush as well,” Winnik said of Winnipeg. “So it will be another good test.”

“They’re quick, they’re skilled and they work hard and play the right way,” added Reimer. “That’s probably the biggest thing about them – they’re an honest hockey team. We just have to make sure we match them with our structure and our work ethic.”

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