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‘I didn’t know the kids could be this good’

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Mike Babcock talks seriously about the game last night. Kasperi Kapanen, Connor Brown and Auston Matthews just smile a lot.

NHL: Pittsburgh Penguins at Toronto Maple Leafs John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Mike Babcock was a little introspective in his first meeting with the press after the Leafs clinched a playoff spot.

He said he’d predicted that the Leafs would need to “crawl in” to the playoffs in the last game of the season if they were making it at all. He summed up the game:

To be honest with you, I didn’t know the kids could be this good. We still show our inexperience—I thought we started real good, I thought we were on it good, and then as soon as something goes wrong we’re tight again. We got in our own way for a bit.

He doesn’t get to really bask in the moment though. That’s for players. As much as he likes to claim in these scrums that he doesn’t look too far ahead, he has to have a longer range vision. He talked a little bit about the future when he noted the Leafs’ good fortune with injuries:

If you look at a team like Tampa, Tampa’s got all those injuries and they are deep enough to still play. If we had those injuries, we wouldn’t have a sniff. And, ideally, in a couple of years from now, we’ll be good enough to get in even if we have injuries.

He also talked about winning and losing, when you’re tight and when you’re loose and said an interesting thing about handicapping matchups at this time of the year. Those AHLers you don’t know the names of, they aren’t so easy to beat, as both Tampa and the Penguins have proven to us all.

The kids that are called up, they’re going to work. They’re flat out going to work. Sometimes it’s better to play all the guys who are playing [regularly] because those guys don’t want to get bumped into, they don’t want to get hurt for the playoffs

He mentioned that the people of Toronto are suddenly talking to him in public, and so he knows that the city is excited for this team and for the playoffs. Really? Speaking to strangers in public, spontaneously? Wow.

If Babcock was a bit subdued and philosophical, Kasperi Kapanen was not.

Kapanen admited he can’t really say what it felt like to score his first (of many) NHL goal. He “blacked out for a bit there”.

If you watch these interview scrums a lot, you will notice something. There are some players, particularly a certain teammate of Kapanen’s who also has an NHL player for a father, that give the most dull and boring answers, devoid of any meaning or emotion to all questions. It’s like watching a training video for a media literacy class for budding NHL stars: “How to bore them into leaving you alone.”

But sometimes the sheer emotion of the moment wins. When Kapanen was asked to compare this goal to his “golden goal” at the WJC, he was quick to claim this moment—tying the game for the Leafs against his old club—as just as special.

He also gave the rundown on his role on the fourth line, and to my eye-test, he played that fourth line grind well last night.

Next, you should check out Connor Brown, one of the best interviews on the team at the best of times, but really special last night:

First he talked about the goal and the celebration of it:

He had a nice way of looking at the mix of youth and veteran experience on the team too, but watch just to see him happy with his goal and the win.

Auston Matthews, who has been to that media training seminar, does very few scrums. When you get your 40th goal and clinch, you meet the press. He was not forced to do it in his stall in the locker room, however.

Not only was he smiling, he laughed when he was asked if he’ll remember where he was when Kapanen scored that goal. He should, he made it all happen, but he gave full and deserved credit to Matt Hunwick for the pass. He also mentioned Matt Martin drawing two Penguins to him to free up the ice.

And you won’t be surprised who he credited for his 40 goal season. (Hint: it’s not himself.)

Goalies are always fun interviews. All that jumpy, giddy emotion from everyone else, and then you get the pulse-lowering calmest man in the room. The man who saved the day, Curtis McElhinney:

He mentioned how loud and thrilling the crowd was, as did Kapanen. It was quite a night, and the fans were a real part of it.