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Rosie DiManno: Without Kadri, Leafs focus on what they can control

Rosie DiManno: Without Kadri, Leafs focus on what they can control
Sports
Actually, add Freddie Andersen to the unshamed manifest. Not much the Toronto ’minder could do when the Bruins laid waste to everything around him on Saturday — with an own goal by a teammate cranking up the score to boot. Hey Willy, got yourself a real wanker there.

Leaf Nazem Kadri gets his stick up on the Bruins’ Brad Marchand in Game 1.  (Boston Globe / Getty Images)

But it is Kadri’s head many want on a spike, on top of whatever suspension is meted out for his cross-check to the head/face/neck of Jake DeBrusk.

My own un-PC thoughts incline toward the social tweep reaction of infamous instigator Sean Avery, who cut through the hand-wringing and pearl clutching: “The only problem with Kadri’s hit is he didn’t take the top f-ing row of DeBrusk’s teeth out.”

I mean, if a guy is going to CROSS THAT LINE — the oft-cited Delaware that separates the merely hard-nosed from the incorrigibly maddened — might as well take some chicklets with you.

Because DeBrusk deserved a sock in the jaw, if not a cross-check to the noggin. For, as Avery noted, the “dirty (bleep) hit” that smeared Patrick Marleau against the glass seconds earlier. For, as every bloodthirsty spectator inside the TD Garden had so volubly cheered, stalking Kadri around the ice all night. For the knee-on-knee crash that wasn’t called. For the ridiculous coinciding roughing minors that were called in the first period, Kadri equally penalized for, apparently, getting his face in the way of DeBrusk’s fist.

The on-ice officials could have averted so much of what later transpired, had they taken DeBrusk’s volatility down a peg. Instead, they emboldened both players.

Pretty much only one lone Leaf took exception to any of the havoc wrought by DeBrusk and his B-posse. And only then, in that nanosecond of misjudgment, amidst the red mist of rage, it was on behalf of Marleau, a 20-year-veteran who’d done nothing to draw DeBrusk’s wrath.

Was a time — and I lament its passing — when the measure of a hockey player was taken by what he took and did for the team. But Kadri, because of his history — a repeat offender, likewise suspended for an avenging assault against Tommy Wingels (unintentional hip contact to the head, he afterwards insisted) in last year’s playoff wrangle with Boston — should expect little mercy from the NHL’s Department of Player Safety at Monday’s in-person hearing.

If Kadri was destined to get his ticket punched out of Toronto this summer anyway, traded to alleviate the club’s salary-cap burden, he doubtless made it a whole lot easier to wave goodbye, at least from the chorus of sanctimonious columnists and reformed hockey enforcers who’ve parlayed marginal careers into “insider’’ commentariat blather.

Me, I’d love to know what his teammates are really thinking. And his coach and his GM and the president of the franchise. Because Kadri is very much a retro Brendan Shanahan. No way would Shanahan the player — prior to his three-year tenure as the league’s disciplinarian-in-chief — have tolerated the manhandling of ’mates as these Leafs did in Game 2.

These Leafs, on that evening, wanted no part of the Bruin menace inside the Garden mosh pit. They have been convinced, from the top down of the Leafs ethos, that they can counter the browbeat by marching to their own beat of skill and speed, which had worked so magnificently in Game 1. But Boston wasn’t going to be caught on the back foot again, startled by Toronto’s intensity and command and efficiency.

Where oh where, though, was the pushback that didn’t show up on the scoreboard? That might have given pause as the series shifts to Toronto for Game 3 Monday?

To their credit, the Bruins — who live and die by the sword, it’s in their DNA — didn’t dine out on Kadri’s felonious cross-check, quite content to enjoy their five-minute power play and put another goal on the board. “Yeah, I think that’s up to the league to decide, I’ve got no comment,’’ DeBrusk said in his post-game scrum. But added of the assault: “It was high. I felt it in my face.’’ As for the knee-on-knee collision: “I’d have to see it, to be honest. I’m not a dirty player.”

Perhaps not. But there was no doubt that DeBrusk had targeted Kadri all night and he wasn’t alone. Distract Kadri — the Sonny Corleone of this outfit, rash and charging straight into an ambush — and who’s left to scratch and claw at them? Kadri was a rampart of one against the Bruin horde. Boston set the pace, established the style of this encounter. They made the Leafs look slow and rattled. No space for Mitch Marner to reprise his Game 1 magic, for Auston Matthews to even begin asserting himself on this series, or for the defence to get out of their own shirking way.

Selfish, Kadri was castigated far and wide, putting his own agenda ahead of the team. Really? His had been the most effective line, his the only Leaf goal. Misdirected emotion. But some emotion nevertheless amidst what was a phlegmatic team performance.

So very Kadri, sniff the cluckers. They don’t get him at all. Impulsive and impetuous but the antithesis of selfish.

Thus, pre-emptively, Mike Babcock was asked six ways from Sunday during a media phone conference, how disappointed he was in Kadri, whether the player had broken a covenant of trust with the coach and his teammates; you know, lesson not learned from a year ago, and his league-issued punishments before that. But Babcock reversed the thrust of the question.

“Obviously it’s disappointing for Naz, disappointing for our team. One of our key areas is depth through the middle and obviously Naz is a good player, he’s done good things. Any time you cross the line though, you give a chance to let someone else made a decision on whether you play or not. The way I look at it today is, we can’t worry about that now. We’ve just got to move on.’’

And again, presented with the leitmotif of a presumed disappointment, employed as a euphemism for screw-up: “I’m not spending a whole lot of time on that … When you prepare your team, you try to prepare for all the situations so you don’t cross the line. I think you have to play real hard and look after yourself, but you can’t cross the line.

“I think, in anything in life, you want to be in control and you’ve got to own everything. You’ve got to own your play, you’ve got to own your discipline, you’ve got to own what’s going on for you. In the end, Naz has someone else making a decision whether he’s playing or not.”
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