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Maple Leafs striving to be elite, Shanahan says

Toronto president confident consistency can lead to success in playoffs

NHL.com @NHLdotcom

The Toronto Maple Leafs are not far from being an elite team in the NHL, according to president Brendan Shanahan.

"You're never going to [be consistent] all 82 games in a row, but certainly doing it more often than not, and that's something that our guys are learning and it's something I'm very confident that they are going to continue to grow at," Shanahan told Sportsnet on Thursday, prior to the Maple Leafs playing the Los Angeles Kings. "I think it's difficult to become a good team in the NHL, but I think it's even more difficult to become an elite team. ... To me, one of the biggest separations between the elite teams and the good teams is consistency, and that's something that we are definitely as a group are trying to learn and develop."

The Maple Leafs have qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in each of the past three seasons but have not advanced since 2004 and have not been to the Stanley Cup Final since 1967, when they last won the championship.

"I see that as an advantage and not a disadvantage that the expectations are high in that regard," Shanahan said, "and I think that I have all the confidence in the world that our players and the players that we have in this group and our management will make adjustments where we need to. I have all the confidence in the world that we are going to get and continue to power through this."

The Maple Leafs were third in the Atlantic Division, five points ahead of the Florida Panthers. They were 4-2-0 in their past six games after going 3-5-1 in their previous nine and have had six winning streaks and three streaks without a win of at least three games.

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Injuries have been an issue for Toronto, which lost three top-four defensemen for significant time; Morgan Rielly has missed 21 games with a broken foot, Jake Muzzin has missed three games with a broken hand, and Cody Ceci has missed 13 games with an ankle injury. Rielly and Ceci are close to returning.

Forward Ilya Mikheyev missed 28 games because of a lacerated wrist sustained Dec. 27. And forward Andreas Johnsson is out for the season after having knee surgery Feb. 19.

"Adversity is something that every NHL team will go through, for all teams and not just ours," Shanahan said, "and it's something that you can either meet and grow from or you can use it as an excuse and I like to think that our players aren't using it as an excuse, certainly not in management or coaching."

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Toronto was the highest scoring team in the NHL (3.49 goals per game) but had allowed the fourth-most goals per game (3.27).

"This is what it's like to be a team that's trying to compete for the Stanley Cup," Shanahan said. "It's quieter and more peaceful when you're going the other way and you're trying to build from scratch. But if we are lucky enough to be the kind of team that can compete and win Stanley Cups, it will not be peaceful, it will be loud and noisy because the decisions are worth more."

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