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Ryan Reaves puts the NHL on notice ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs


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Mike Armenti
April 16, 2024  (5:34 PM)
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Ryan Reaves battles for position with Brandon Montour
Photo credit: Dan Hamilton, USA Today Sports

The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a unique position right now in regards to the NHL schedule and the opportunity to play their probable Round 1 opponent, the Florida Panthers, just a few days before the start of the 2023-24 Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Leafs and Panthers are currently owners of the #2 and #3 spots in the Atlantic Division, putting them on a crash course to meet in Round 1, just one year after meeting in Round 2 - a series the Panthers won in 5 games. There's still a minute chance that the Leafs can avoid the Panthers in Round 1, but a win over the Cats tonight will lock in a Leafs/Panthers first round meeting.
For Ryan Reaves, this is a bit of a strange situation, knowing that the Leafs are very likely to kick off the playoffs in Sunrise, Florida on Saturday night. When he spoke with the media yesterday following practice, the 108-game playoff veteran said he couldn't recall a time where he's ever had that happen before in his career.
"Don't think I've ever travelled to a city you might be in for playoffs, too. I anticipated nice weather in Florida, but packed a lot of warm clothes (if it's Boston). You have to go through the best teams anyway."
-Reaves on the unique opportunity to play the Panthers tonight before likely opening the playoffs against them this weekend

Whether the Leafs draw the Bruins or Panthers in Round 1, it doesn't make a difference to Reaves, or the rest of the team. Following his comments about playing Florida tonight before potentially facing off against them in the playoffs, Reaves told the media that the team's looking well beyond the first round of the playoffs, putting the rest of the league on notice.
"Our goal isn't to go just one round."
-Reaves on the Leafs eyeing a deep run

The Leafs have won just 1 playoff series in the last 20 years, last season year versus Tampa. They finally got a taste of life beyond Round 1 for the first time in the Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner era and after losing a tough Round 2 matchup against Florida last season, the Leafs have set their sights on the Conference Finals and beyond. The problem is that there are 7 other teams in the East that want that as well, the Florida Panthers among them.
After running through the Leafs last spring, the Panthers powered through all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals, where they met a juggernaut in the Vegas Golden Knights, who handed them a 4-1 series loss, so the Panthers will also be playing with a lot of motivation in Round 1. For Reaves, his job will be to play hard, finish his checks, outwork the opposition and force offensive zone draws for his team. I'd imagine we'll see Reaves drop his mitts at least once or twice in the series as well.
Reaves has been around a long time and he knows what it takes to win in the playoffs. He's no spring chicken anymore at 37 years of age, but he's been playing a lot better throughout the second half of the season and has done everything the team has asked of him and then some. There's no question that he'll play a valuable role with the Leafs in the bottom six, but as he had specified on Monday, the work the Leafs have put this year in is with the intention of going well beyond one round, so he'll need to be at his best to avoid an early exit.
Reaves has 2 seasons remaining beyond this one at a $1.35M cap hit. He's earned his paycheck this season, but I'm sure if you asked him, he'd give it all back to have his name permanently etched into the Stanley Cup this season.
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Ryan Reaves puts the NHL on notice ahead of the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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