NHL.com's Q&A feature called "Five Questions With …" runs every Tuesday. We talk to key figures in the game and ask them questions to gain insight into their lives, careers and the latest news.
The latest edition features Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Morgan Rielly:
TORONTO -- Why is defenseman Morgan Rielly confident the Toronto Maple Leafs aren't going to fade this season, that they are for real and will continue to prove that to be true?
"The biggest sign that we're going to be OK here is we're not getting too far ahead of ourselves," Rielly said. "We're focused on Washington."
The Maple Leafs take a five-game winning streak into Verizon Center to play the Washington Capitals on Tuesday (7 p.m. ET; TVA Sports, CSN-DC, TSN4, NHL.TV). They are coming off a 5-4 overtime win against the Detroit Red Wings in the 2017 Scotiabank NHL Centennial Classic on Sunday after winning consecutive back-to-back sets on the road before and after the Christmas break.
"The only thing that this team cares about, more than I've ever seen, is just winning," Rielly said. "Nobody cares about stats. Nobody cares about what is going on in the media, who gets the most attention. The only thing we want to do in this room is win."
Rielly talked more about the culture metamorphosis the Maple Leafs are going through and reasons why they're having success, enough to be in the conversation for the Stanley Cup Playoffs with 46 regular-season games left to play, in an interview with NHL.com.
Video: PHI@TOR: Rielly snipes a PPG into the top shelf
Here is Five Questions with … Morgan Rielly:
What do you think the impact of winning four in a row on the road the way you did to bridge the Christmas break will be not just now, but as you move deeper into the season?
"I think that the immediate impact is just points, which is very important. We're aware of where we are in the standings and we're aware of who is ahead of us, who we're chasing. For me personally, when I was sitting there having Christmas dinner and Boxing Day, you are thinking about that; we are going after Florida and Tampa and we've got two games against them. Those games in hand only matter if you win them, so the impact I think is big because now we know we can do it and the expectation has to be that we can do it every time. To go back-to-back on the road two times in a row, it's a huge sign of maturity and a huge sign of growth. I think guys have to take note of that and take pride in that."
Are you guys talking at all about the playoffs yet based on where you are in the standings?
"In meetings, no. Amongst each other at dinner, absolutely. I think if you don't come to the rink with the attitude that you're going to be playing in the playoffs, you're already behind. When we go for dinner, we definitely talk about it. I check the standings every day. We definitely talk about it. I certainly do."
Did you talk about the playoffs at all last season?
"Certainly not at the end because after a while mathematically it becomes impossible. But last year when we went for dinner with the guys before the season started, sure we were. But around this time of the year, it became a different conversation. It became a conversation of us having a lot of work and a big challenge ahead of us. Now, it's every game is a big game, at least the way I see it. The way you climb up the standings, you start looking at it and going, 'OK, we're two points behind Florida and four behind Tampa.' But then you're all of a sudden saying, 'We're three behind Boston and one behind Tampa.' So you start thinking about who is next, who is next. You want to keep climbing, so the conversation is changing weekly."
When Mike Babcock got hired by the Maple Leafs, he talked about pain, and you could probably see what he was talking about. Has this growth and maturity the team has shown and you have talked about happened faster than you expected it to happen?
"Yes and no. I think yes because of where we are now. I think when Mike was making those statements, he knew exactly what he was doing. I think Mike, in his head, wanted to be ahead of the curve in what he was saying. I think that's just a smart move as I'm sure you agree, be a bit conservative. Right now, Mike is maybe putting things in fast-forward a little bit in a good sense because he believes in our group and has confidence in our group. He thinks we can go further and quicker than what he has portrayed in the media."
What has he fast-forwarded?
"Well, No. 34 [Auston Matthews], No. 16 [Mitchell Marner] and No. 29 [William Nylander]. They're pretty good players and they've really impressed everybody, including me, all their teammates. When you look at how good these guys are and the way the older guys have responded to that and the way that everybody has kind of said, 'OK, we can do this thing,' that automatically puts things in motion. Players start to play better and things start to happen, and all of a sudden we're ahead of the curve and moving in the right direction at a good pace."