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Maple Leafs seek consistency for stretch run

Three straight wins buoyed by young defensemen have steadied Toronto, GM says

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

BOCA RATON, Fla. -- The Toronto Maple Leafs have won all three games they have played since general manager Kyle Dubas stood in front of the media on Feb. 24 and described the team as Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

The Maple Leafs' success in the past week is in stark contrast to how they had been playing, leading to Dubas saying he didn't know what to expect game to game shortly after the 2020 NHL Trade Deadline passed quietly for Toronto.

The Maple Leafs (35-23-8) have since won road games at the Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3 on Feb. 25) and Florida Panthers (5-3 on Thursday) and a home game against the Vancouver Canucks (4-2 on Saturday). They have built a five-point cushion on the Panthers for third place in the Atlantic Division going into their game against the San Jose Sharks at SAP Center on Tuesday (10:30 p.m. ET; ESPN+, NBCSCA, SNO, NHL.TV).

Video: Marincin, Matthews lead Maple Leafs past Canucks

"Happy, obviously, that we've won, but I think more importantly looking forward to how we continue to respond down the rest of the way here," Dubas said after Day 2 of the NHL general managers meetings wrapped up. "We've got an important trip starting tonight in San Jose. It's been good to see the way that the team is played, especially the younger guys on D and the way that different players have stepped up. We're going to have to have that continue the rest of the year, and I think that's what we'll be watching for now." 

Dubas said he has been particularly impressed with Toronto's young defensemen, including 19-year-old Rasmus Sandin and 20-year-old Timothy Liljegren along with 26-year-old Calle Rosen, who have been given playing time because top-four defensemen Jake Muzzin (hand), Morgan Rielly (foot) and Cody Ceci (ankle) are injured and out of the lineup.

Sandin has played in all three games since the trade deadline. Liljegren and Rosen have played in two each.

"A lot of them hadn't played in these roles before," Dubas said, "so as much as you have confidence in the development program and you have confidence in them as people and players, until they actually go out and do it you can project all you want. But it has been nice to see them be able to step up and perform really well." 

Dubas also credited the forwards for how they've played without the puck.

"I think more than just the [defensemen], it has been the way the team has played defense in general," he said. "We've got strong goaltending all throughout the week from [Frederik Andersen] as well, so that all combined for a good week for us." 

The Maple Leafs' three-game winning streak has also allowed them to open up a lead on the struggling Panthers, who are 0-2-1 in their past three games. But that hasn't changed Toronto's perspective on the Stanley Cup Playoff race, Dubas said.

"Last year at this point, I think if you looked at it only in terms of probabilities, we were essentially going to be in, barring something catastrophic," Dubas said. "This year, it's been much different in that it's not a certainty whatsoever, and as recently as a week ago, two weeks ago, our chances in terms of how probable it was that we were going to make it weren't great. So I think that's forced us to have a different mindset than we've had in past years. 

"It doesn't let us get too transfixed on one opponent or another like it was [with the] Boston [Bruins] last year, it's just, focus on being at the best we can and being ready for whatever opponent is ahead of us."

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