A three-hour difference fortunately separates the Toffoli family in the eastern Toronto suburb of Scarborough from Los Angeles, where the Kings are set to do battle with the St. Louis Blues in Game 6 of the Western Conference quarterfinals tonight. The separated time zones will allow some members of the household to take in a pair of important games.
“My dad’s a big Leafs fan. He says they’re winning the Cup every year,” rookie forward Tyler Toffoli said.
Game 5 of Maple Leafs-Bruins will prelude seamlessly into another tightly-contested Western Conference battle between the Kings and Blues that is likely to continue the trend of tense, one-goal affairs. Two goals have separated Los Angeles and St. Louis for only five minutes and one second of the first 321:26 that have been played thus far.
The high-stakes hockey hasn’t been lost on Toffoli, who was effective in his playoff debut and likely to remain in the lineup for Friday night’s Game 6.
“Playing in the NHL is a difference, but obviously playing in the playoffs is more intense, and it’s hard, and I know that,” Toffoli said. “I was going out there, and I was playing more physical than I usually would, too. I mean, it’s just playoff hockey, and that’s just how it goes.”
It was a performance that drew praise from Head Coach Darryl Sutter, who credited the skill pedigree that allowed him to use the 21-year-old in key moments of the game, including a pair of shifts in overtime. Toffoli accumulated 10:39 of ice time in the 3-2 overtime win.
“He was a skilled player, a good player on that line. He’s a good player. He’s the rookie of the year in the American League, he’s the leading goal scorer in the American League. He scored 50-something goals in junior last year. He’s a good player.”
Toffoli learned after Wednesday’s morning skate that he’d be in the lineup that night and was ultimately encouraged by his performance.
“I was just going out there trying to keep it simple, and just trying not to make any big mistakes and get pucks deep. That’s what I thought I did, and I thought I did a pretty good job of it,” he said.
The butterflies died down substantially after he found his legs early in the game.
“You know what? Not really,” Toffoli answered when asked if there were any pre-game jitters. “I was just taking it as another game. Once the game started, a little bit, but I mean, not to a huge amount to where I couldn’t really play. I kept it pretty simple out there…Just doing the little things right. Just getting pucks out. Playing good in your own zone creates offense, so I thought it was a good game.”
It was the latest step in the maturation of a player learning to put his skill and hockey smarts to use at the highest level.
“He just needs to watch, practice and play, and whether it’s productive right now…it’ll be productive for him soon,” Sutter said.