Bab­cock says Maple Leafs need to ‘start on time’

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - SPORTS - Tkoshan@postmedia.com LANCE HORNBY TORONTO SUN lhornby@postmedia.com

For parts of two sea­sons, Con­nor Car­rick was a team­mate of Alex Ovechkin and had the op­por­tu­nity to ad­mire the Rus­sian su­per­star from across the dress­ing room.

The re­spect for Ovechkin from Car­rick’s view on the Maple Leafs blue-line con­tin­ues as the Leafs and Wash­ing­ton Cap­i­tals head into Game 5 of their first-round se­ries on Fri­day night in Wash­ing­ton, dead­locked 2-2 in the best-of-seven.

Ev­ery player skat­ing in the post­sea­son knows the glare of the spot­light and the weight of ex­pec­ta­tions. That the Leafs are tied with the Caps, the Pres­i­dents’ Tro­phy win­ner dur­ing the reg­u­lar sea­son, and about to be­gin a best-of-three se­ries is proof of their re­siliency and de­sire.

Few gave the Leafs a chance to win the se­ries, let alone at least two games. While Car­rick and his Leafs team­mates have zero in­ter­est in their sea­son end­ing in the next sev­eral days, the 23-year-old de­fence­man isn’t en­vi­ous of Ovechkin, who is 31 and has never hoisted the Stan­ley Cup. Ovechkin’s ev­ery­day hockey neme­sis, Sid­ney Crosby, twice has won the Cup and has been in­stru­men­tal on the Olympic stage where Ovechkin has not.

“I’ll never know the pres­sure he’s un­der, given the pick he was (first over­all in 2004), the Crosby/ Ovechkin thing and all the sto­ry­lines he has been a part of,” Car­rick said.

“The clock is al­ways tick­ing in this sport; you are al­ways one game closer to your next one.

“(Ovechkin) is a guy who has tons of ex­pec­ta­tions and abil­ity, he has been a part of good teams but for what­ever rea­son they haven’t put it to­gether in the time he has been there. So that’s some­thing we’re play­ing against, we’re play­ing against a des­per­ate team.”

Ovechkin might not have the same flash he once did, but his pas­sion to win never has sub­sided. His ice time in the se­ries has been an is­sue in some cor­ners — he is sixth among Caps for­wards on av­er­age, af­ter he led in that cat­e­gory in the reg­u­lar sea­son. Still, with an av­er­age of 19 min­utes, one sec­ond in four games, he’s on the ice more than he was in the reg­u­lar sea­son, when he av­er­aged 18 min­utes 21 sec­onds. And he is hav­ing a clear im­pact. Ovechkin and the sur­pris­ing Tom Wil­son have three goals each to lead Wash­ing­ton, and the Leafs haven’t been able to nudge Ovechkin out of his face­off-cir­cle of­fice while the Caps are on the power play.

Ovechkin has 18 shots on goal, the most of any player in the se­ries, and he still would rather go through you than around you. The Cap­i­tals cap­tain’s 19 hits are the most among Wash­ing­ton for­wards.

“I just know as a player who has played against him a bunch of times, that he com­petes re­ally, re­ally hard,” Leafs vet­eran cen­tre Brian Boyle said. “His skill level speaks for it­self. I don’t love talk­ing about in­di­vid­ual guys on the other team in the playoffs, but he is a world-class player and he is their leader and I think he showed it pretty good (in the Caps’ win in Game 4).”

Two games re­main in the se­ries, and pos­si­bly three. The Leafs know Ovechkin is go­ing to be a fac­tor to some de­gree. The key is en­sur­ing that it’s not to the point that Ovechkin puts the Caps on his back and leads his team to the sec­ond round.

How much more wary now do the Leafs have to be of Ovechkin, given what’s at stake?

“You’ve got to an­swer the bell,” Car­rick said. “You al­ways ex­pect the other team’s best and it’s our job to counter or hit first, so to speak. It’s our job to play at our pace, with our ex­e­cu­tion, in our sys­tem, things that have made us suc­cess­ful all sea­son long and against Wash­ing­ton. Be aware of our pit­falls and let’s stay away from them and man­age the game.”

Mike Bab­cock could pin-point the ex­act mo­ment things be­gan un­rav­el­ing for his Leafs in Game 4.

“It went down hill af­ter the na­tional an­them,” said the coach, start­ing Thurs­day’s press con­fer­ence with some lev­ity. “Martina (Luis-Or­tiz) did a heck of a job, I thought it was spec­tac­u­lar, best I ever heard. Then (the game) wasn’t pretty.”

Turn­ing se­ri­ous, Bab­cock ham­mered on a fa­mil­iar theme about his team not start­ing on time. Even though the cal­en­dar is get­ting close to May 1, the Leafs be­gan both games in the home por­tion of the se­ries by fall­ing be­hind 2-0.

“We have to start on time, ex­e­cute, com­pete at a high level,” said Bab­cock.

Winger Matt Martin says the Leafs must once more project them­selves into the role of win-or-go-home in Game 5.

“I think peo­ple have been try­ing to find that recipe for­ever,” Martin said. “Be­ing the team kind of with their back against the wall, like Wash­ing­ton was, they al­ways seem to find a lit­tle more des­per­a­tion than the team that’s com­ing off a big win. But for what­ever rea­son, we just didn’t ex­e­cute early in the game. We ex­pected them to push, they’re the best team in hockey for a rea­son. We ex­pected them to come out strong. But the goals they scored were us break­ing down men­tally.”

Bab­cock had fore­warned the Caps would come as hard at his group as the San Jose Sharks did a cou­ple of nights ago against Ed­mon­ton, an­other young team that was get­ting a glut of pos­i­tive press for its play early in the se­ries.

“I think it’s an ex­pe­ri­ence we had to go through,” Martin said. “I think maybe just the hype around the (Leafs) the last few days was a lot. Th­ese things are best-of-sevens for a rea­son. Just be­cause you’re up 2-1, no­body is go­ing to re­mem­ber that if (Wash­ing­ton) go on to win the Cup. We need to learn not to be sat­is­fied with hav­ing two wins un­der our belt.”

Hern­ing, Den­mark, home of Fred­erik An­der­sen, has al­ready pro­duced one cham­pion player this year to whom the Leaf goalie wanted to give a shout-out.

Cen­tre/winger Mads Christensen was part of Mu­nich’s run to the top of the Ger­man League, which was the 10th ti­tle he has won.

“That’s his fifth in the Ger­man League and he won five at home (mostly with Hern­ing Blue Fox),” An­der­sen said. “That’s pretty im­pres­sive — and he’s only 30 years old.”

Christensen and Frans Nielsen of the Red Wings are in a tight group of An­der­sen sup­port­ers from Hern­ing, though Leaf suc­cess in fu­ture will likely ex­pand that base in Den­mark.

“My fam­ily, they’re fol­low­ing along with the NHL playoffs and my best friends from home al­ways check up on me,” An­der­sen said.

This se­ries marks the sec­ond straight spring Con­nor Car­rick has faced the Cap­i­tals in playoffs, if you count their Her­shey farm team last spring when Car­rick was a Mar­lie. The de­fence­man has a con­stant re­minder of those days in Her­shey, his beloved three-year-old French bull­dog, Hoagie, named af­ter the fa­mous sand­wich in that re­gion of Penn­syl­va­nia.

“Peo­ple say I got the dog too early, but it’s the best mis­take I ever made,” Car­rick said. “It’s a great city dog.”

Car­rick took Hoagie for a late night walk af­ter Toronto’s Game 3 win.

“Peo­ple were run­ning down the street yelling ‘go Leafs go.’ It had been two hours af­ter the game. It’s a good buzz in the city.”

CLAUS AN­DER­SEN/GETTY IMAGES

Alex Ovechkin is tied for team lead with three goals through Wash­ing­ton’s first four play­off games.

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