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Round 1

Maple Leafs' depth will be tested

Defensemen to see increased minutes against Capitals in Game 3 with Roman Polak out

by Dave McCarthy / Correspondent

TORONTO -- The depth of the Toronto Maple Leafs defense will be tested when their Eastern Conference First Round series shifts to Air Canada Centre for Game 3 against the Washington Capitals on Monday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC).

Veteran defenseman Roman Polak will miss the remainder of the Stanley Cup Playoffs because of a lower-body injury sustained in a collision with Capitals defenseman Brooks Orpik in Game 2 on Saturday. The Maple Leafs defeated the Capitals 4-3 in the second overtime to even the best-of-7 series 1-1.

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm2: Polak leaves early with injury

"A real unfortunate situation for Roman," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said Sunday. "He's a good, good man. He's a great teammate, plays hard, competes hard. Unfortunate incident, really unfortunate for him and us."

Polak averaged 2:54 of ice time per game shorthanded, the most among Toronto defensemen during the regular season. The responsibility of absorbing some of those minutes likely will fall to Martin Marincin, who also was relied on heavily to kill penalties, averaging 2:49 of ice time shorthanded in 25 regular-season games. He played 4:11 shorthanded in Game 2.


[RELATED: Complete Capitals-Maple Leafs series coverage]


"I really like Marty. I think Marty's a real good player," Babcock said. "I think sometimes he gets in his own way but confidence is a thing that gets in his way sometimes. He's a talented, talented guy. He might be our best penalty killer on our team but you've got to get in the lineup."

Defenseman Matt Hunwick also will see significant shorthanded ice time. He played nearly 18 minutes more in Game 2 (35:46) than the 17:58 he averaged in the regular season, with 5:02 coming shorthanded.

"He gets a lot [of credit] from me," Babcock said. "I think a lot of our players may not get as much credit outside but he gets lots internally and that's where you want it. You want it from your teammates and your coaches and your management.

"Hunwick's a key guy for us, wears an A for us, does things right every day on and off the ice. That's why we brought him here and that's what he's been able to provide. He's a real stable guy."

Defensemen Jake Gardiner (40:34), Morgan Rielly (39:56), Marincin (30:38) and Hunwick each had a season high in ice time in Game 2. Babcock said he is not concerned about the energy level of his defense, particularly Gardiner and Rielly, for Game 3.

Video: TOR@WSH, Gm2: Rielly scores PPG through traffic

"I thought those two guys got better as the game went on to tell you the truth," Babcock said. "They'll get their rest here and we've got a good sport science program here. We'll get them looked after as best we can and we'll get ready to go again. Great thing about it is you're playing a team that they played too. Those guys skate easy, they glide. Some guys chug, they don't."

Babcock said Game 2 was the best he's seen from Rielly and Gardiner since he became coach of the Maple Leafs in 2015.

"I think Rielly's been as good as he's been since I got here the last two games," Babcock said. "The change in Jake in the two years is incredible but it's all confidence. He earned it. He trained in the summer, he worked at it, he's gotten better, he feels good about himself."

Defenseman Nikita Zaitsev, out since April 9 because of an upper-body injury, skated on his own Sunday and is questionable for Game 3. If he can't play, Alexey Marchenko will play in what would be his first game since March 25.

Tweet from @Zaitsev22: Skating...see you soon Toronto!

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