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Kadri ready to provide smart, physical play for Maple Leafs

Forward learned lesson after suspension against Bruins in playoffs last season

by Mike Zeisberger @Zeisberger / NHL.com Staff Writer

TORONTO -- Nazem Kadri feels partially responsible for the Toronto Maple Leafs losing in the Eastern Conference First Round to the Boston Bruins last season.

The Maple Leafs forward was suspended three games by the NHL Department of Player Safety for boarding Bruins forward Tommy Wingels in Game 1. Boston went on to win two of the three games Kadri was suspended before eliminating Toronto in seven games.

"I felt like [the series] could have been a little bit different," Kadri said Monday.

 

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

 

But Kadri, whose goal is to produce offensively while getting under the opposition's skin, doesn't believe he needs to change his agitating on-ice style heading into yet another postseason series against the Bruins.

Whether he can keep his composure this time around will be one of the top storylines when the Bruins and Maple Leafs play Game 1 of the best-of-7 series at TD Garden on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS, NESN).

"It was tough to watch, sitting out like that," Kadri said. "It wasn't fun, for sure. Being able to know I could have an impact on a game and not being able to play, not being out there with the guys you've spent a whole season with is tough, especially to see them lose like that and feel like you could have done something about it.

"I like to play with an edge and I think that's what a lot of people respect about me and like about me, so that's something I'm never going to change."

The key, he said, is not going over the edge like he did last year against Wingels.

"You try to get as close to it without crossing it," Kadri said. "I think you have to be somewhat conscious about it. Hockey is about decision making and instinctual decisions. Everything happens at such a high pace and high intensity especially during the playoffs. It's something you have to be aware of."

Video: Previewing the Leafs vs. Bruins First Round matchup

Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock agreed that Kadri is most effective when he is playing aggressive.

"That's when he makes the biggest impact," he said.

This season, Kadri moved down to the No. 3 center role after John Tavares signed as a free agent with Toronto in the offseason. Auston Matthews (37), Tavares (47) and Kadri (16), the team's top three centers, combined for 100 goals this season and will provide matchup issues for the Bruins if Babcock has his way.

Kadri, who finished with 44 points after consecutive 32-goal seasons, said his diminished offense was an offshoot of his altered role from second line to third-line center.

"I get it, and I welcome the role," Kadri said. "I think I could have had at least 20 (goals). I've lost count of how many goalposts I've hit."

The only hits he's focusing on now involves checks thrown at the Bruins. 

"Against teams that are a little more physical, I think that's when I play my best hockey," Kadri said. "I like to engage, whether it be physically or verbally or making a play. If you want to play a physical style, if you want to play skill style, I'm able to come out and work in both directions. It's definitely a positive for sure. 

"I always embrace the challenge. I want to play against the best teams, the best players because I think myself and our team thrives on that. The way I see it, to get to our end result, our end goal, we have to go through the best teams."

Boston will certainly be that. 

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