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FIRST ROUND

Gardiner, Maple Leafs eye vindication against Bruins in playoffs

Vow loss to Bruins last season will fuel first-round rematch

by Dave McCarthy / NHL.com Correspondent

TORONTO -- Jake Gardiner said he is only looking forward and is determined to seek redemption when the Toronto Maple Leafs visit the Boston Bruins in Game 1 of the Eastern Conference First Round at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NESN, NHL.TV).

"Yeah definitely, anytime you have a defeat like [last season] it drives you to be even better each year but this is a different team," the defenseman said. "There's new guys on the team so it's kind of a fresh start."

Gardiner tops the list of Maple Leafs looking for vindication against the Bruins, who they meet in the first round for the second straight time. He shouldered a lot of the blame after going a career-worst minus-5 in Toronto's 7-4 loss in Game 7 last season, which the Maple Leafs led 4-3 after two periods.

 

[RELATED: Full Bruins vs. Maple Leafs series coverage]

 

Gardiner said he never re-watched the game but said it took him about two weeks to really move on from one of the lowest moments of his career. Now he is concentrating on using that feeling to make good this time around.

"I've got a good support system and my family is very supportive," Gardiner said. "You obviously never forget it, but you put it to the side and it drives you to work harder and be better."

Gardiner, who had 30 points (three goals, 27 assists) in 62 games this season, missed 18 straight games with a back injury before returning for Toronto's final two regular-season games. After a rigorous practice paired with Travis Dermott on Monday, he said he feels strong heading into Game 1.

"It feels good," Gardiner said. "Today is a rest and recovery day after a hard practice yesterday."

Gardiner said there is no reason why Toronto should not be confident against Boston, despite the Bruins going 3-1-0 against the Maple Leafs during the regular season, outscoring them 16-10.

Video: Previewing the Leafs vs. Bruins First Round matchup

"We were right there with them [in the playoffs last season] so we know we can beat them," Gardiner said. "We were talking in our meetings about when we're up in games, make sure we finish them. That's very important this time of year to take advantage of our opportunities.

"We have to keep our foot on the gas pedal. I wouldn't say you play the same (with the lead) but you have to play smart and play hard and make sure you never take your foot off the pedal."

Coach Mike Babcock was quick to try to divert some of the blame from Gardiner after Game 7 last season and is happy Gardiner will be in uniform after his injury initially cast doubt on his availability.

"We all lost, we were all there last year," Babcock said. "I think Jake is a really good player but I think he's someone people have decided isn't a good player and so they pick on him. I can tell you right now we can't find another one. The way I look at it is, I think he's a good player and I'm going to play him a lot."

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