McCabe and Edmundson Provide a Blueprint For Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Success

In a highly anticipated matchup against Connor McDavid and the Edmonton Oilers, the physical play from the Toronto Maple Leafs defensemen provided a blueprint for future playoff success.
Mar 23, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Joel Edmundson (20) in a post-whistle scrum during Saturday night's game.
Mar 23, 2024; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Edmonton Oilers forward Connor McDavid (97) and Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman Joel Edmundson (20) in a post-whistle scrum during Saturday night's game. / Dan Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports
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The stage was set for two of the most recognizable faces in the NHL to display their talents during a national telecast for Saturday's game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers.

The NHL's leading goal scorer, Auston Matthews of the Leafs against the NHL's leading playmaker, Connor McDavid of the Oilers.

It was an opportunity for each of these stars to shine in a game between two contenders for the Stanley Cup.

Despite multi-point games for both superstars, their performances were not dominant. Instead, it was the depth players, particularly those from the victorious Leafs that stole the show.

Physical Play From Leafs Defensemen Helped Neutralize the Oilers Stars

The play from Leafs defensemen Jake McCabe and Joel Edmundson was particularly noticeable for all the right reasons.

The Leafs had an inauspicious start to the Oilers game, thanks to an early tripping penalty against Matthew Knies. The vaunted Oilers' power play would get an opportunity to seize the early momentum.

During the man advantage, the Oilers would dump the puck into Edmundson's corner while McDavid chased after it. McDavid arrived first. Edmundson was in close pursuit and had only one intention, finishing his check.

Based on McDavid's reaction, he did not particularly enjoy the hard, clean check into the boards. With the hit, Edmundson set an early, physical tone for the Leafs. Edmundson also provided key shot blocks while the Leafs were shorthanded.

Later in the first period, Edmundson became engaged with Edmonton's other superstar, Leon Draisaitl. It also came during an Oilers' power play.

Edmundson bumped Draisaitl, gave him no room to turn around and operate in open space, and eventually disengaged him from the puck.

Plus, during a second period, after the whistle scrum, also on another Edmonton power play, Jake McCabe and Edmundson exchanged pleasantries with McDavid and Draisaitl.

The Leafs, especially their most physical defensemen, made it clear that the Oilers star players were going to have to earn everything they got.

McCabe and Edmundson Provide a Blueprint For Toronto Maple Leafs Playoff Success

For years, the Leafs have been maligned for their lack of physical play in the postseason. Though that isn't exactly fair, since over the years the Leafs surrounded their core with the likes of Ryan O'Rielly, Wayne Simmonds, Nick Foligno, Jake Muzzin, Jake McCabe, Luke Schenn and ton of other grinders and big hitters.

Regardless of the past, this year's blue-line looks like it's built for the playoffs - it just remains to be seen if it can move the puck well enough to help the Leafs score goals.

The close-checking, in-your-face play from both Edmundson and McCabe set the tone as the Leafs killed off multiple penalties on their way to a 5-0 lead after two periods. They also stifled the Oilers during even-strength, limiting them to six shots on net in the first period.

Combined with depth scoring from the likes of Bobby McMann and Pontus Holmberg, along with key saves from Ilya Samsonov, the Leafs prevailed over a quality opponent.

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As the Stanley Cup playoffs draw nearer, the Toronto Maple Leafs have demonstrated a clear-cut path to postseason success.