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Maple Leafs learned from early struggles

Young team set for playoff push after adding experience at trade deadline

by Lisa Dillman @reallisa / Staff Writer

LOS ANGELES -- Even the most gifted kids are going to stumble and fall along the way, losing in spectacular fashion.

Prodigies Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner were less than a month into their NHL careers with the Toronto Maple Leafs when they sustained a 7-0 loss against the Los Angeles Kings in Toronto on Nov. 8. Matthews had three shots and Marner two, and they were a combined minus-six.

"I can hardly remember it except it was a shellacking," Maple Leafs coach Mike Babcock said after the morning skate at Staples Center on Thursday.

It would be easy to say that the path has been smooth since then. But that would not be accurate.

There have been youthful wobbles since November but this is the undeniable takeaway with 20 games remaining in the regular season.

Video: TOR@SJS: Matthews slams home Leivo's feed for PPG

Toronto (28-21-13) possesses the second wild card into the Stanley Cup Playoffs from the Eastern Conference. The Maple Leafs play the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday and are at the Anaheim Ducks on Friday.

Babcock acknowledged the organization's fine-line approach to the Wednesday trade deadline and gave a status report, of sorts.

"This year, it's a different kind of buying too, let's be honest," he said. "You're being real careful you're not getting ahead of yourself. Yet you're trying to acquire things you think you need to help your group grow so that you can be a contender year in and year out.

"Ideally, we helped our group."

They acquired forward Brian Boyle from the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday and made one trade Wednesday, acquiring forward Eric Fehr, defenseman Steve Oleksy and a fourth-round pick in the 2017 NHL Draft from the Pittsburgh Penguins for defenseman Frank Corrado.

Boyle played Tuesday against the San Jose Sharks. Fehr took part in the morning skate in Los Angeles and Babcock said he would not play against the Kings.

"Between him and (Boyle), I think we really improved that part of our room, which is real important for us," Babcock said. "You get used to winning and you know how to win and you prepare like a winner. You live like a winner. You act like a winner and you do things like a winner, and the next thing you know you're winning.

"Then what happens is that wears off on other people. We want our young guys being around guys like that much as we possibly can."

Video: TOR@STL: Marner shows off quick hands, goes five-hole

Boyle's role is multipurpose.

He has 100 games of Stanley Cup Playoff experience, split between the Lightning and the New York Rangers. At this juncture, he is familiar with what it takes to get it done.

"It's always the details," Boyle said. "It's small things. It becomes 2-1 games, 1-0 games, low-scoring games. Teams are trying to attend to their own end and not give up much.

"The stakes are raised even though it's still the same two points as it is in October and November. For whatever reason you go through those growing pains … You have to earn your breaks this time of year."

Boyle had plenty of time to ponder the past and the future when he was making the long trip after the trade to join the Maple Leafs in San Jose.

"When you're traveling for nine hours you think about a lot of things," he said. "You want to fit in. You wonder how I'm going to fit in there as a player, first of all. If you come in and help the team win games, I think you'll fit in pretty quickly. You want to be at your best."

The kids can help him.

"It's not necessarily telling people what they want to hear all the time," Boyle said. "Again, you have to be supportive in one another. I'm walking in here and my first impression, a close team. Young guys with a lot energy, and that's going to rub off on me, too."

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