TORONTO -- If you want to find Toronto Maple Leafs general manager Lou Lamoriello during the morning skate at Air Canada Centre on Wednesday, it's not difficult if you know where to look.
A creature of habit, Lamoriello watches from a corner seat near the top of the lower bowl so he has the same perspective every time. He'll likely slip into his seat moments before the Maple Leafs begin their drills and final preparations to host the Washington Capitals in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference First Round on Wednesday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports 2, CSN-DC).
This is a practice that dates back to Lamoriello's 27 seasons with the New Jersey Devils, and he's continued it during his two seasons with the Maple Leafs. After the Devils failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs in his last three seasons as their president and GM and the Maple Leafs missed last season, Lamoriello, 74, is enjoying being part of the dance again.
"You know the regular season is one season, but the playoffs, in my opinion, have always been the real season," Lamoriello said Tuesday.
Even after winning the Stanley Cup in 1995, 2000 and 2003 and also reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2001 and 2012, Lamoriello remains driven to win. One difference from his days in New Jersey is that Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan sometimes watches morning skates and practices with him.
Shanahan, 48, convinced Lamoriello to come to Toronto and is his boss now, but was a 19-year-old rookie forward when they went through the playoffs together for the first time with the Devils in 1988.
There are some similarities to the story the Maple Leafs are writing in taking a 2-1 series lead on the Presidents' Trophy-winning Capitals to what Lamoriello's first Devils team experienced 29 years ago. The Devils had never qualified for the playoffs before clinching a berth on the final day of the regular season. The Maple Leafs took until the penultimate day of the regular season to clinch their first playoff berth since 2013 and second since 2004.
The 1987-88 Devils had 13 players that made their playoff debuts that season. The Maple Leafs have had 10 players make their playoff debuts against the Capitals, including Auston Matthews, Zach Hyman and William Nylander, who make up their all-rookie first line that scored two goals in a 4-3 overtime victory in Game 3 on Monday.
And the 1987-88 Devils were heavy underdogs in the Patrick Division Semifinals against the New York Islanders, who had won the division and had future Hockey Hall of Famers Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier and Pat LaFontaine.
"You can always pull out parallels out of context, but, yes, the Devils were never in the playoffs, had never been in it, and there were the dramatics of getting in that year," Lamoriello said. "Then, it becomes a new season. You never know what can transpire and all you have to do is stay focused on what gave you the ability to get in the playoffs and now you just drive off that and don't look in the rearview mirror."
That approach helped the Devils upset the Islanders in six games in 1988, beginning a postseason run that carried them within one win of the Stanley Cup Final before they lost to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 of the Wales Conference Final. Whether the Maple Leafs can have similar results remains to be seen.
Predictably, Lamoriello isn't looking that far ahead, but with coach Mike Babcock guiding the way, he can see this young team growing up in front of him.
"This has been going on all year long from the beginning," Lamoriello said. "They knew that they would be given the opportunity. All that was asked of them was that their work ethic be 100 percent and their accountability be 100 percent. We knew there would be growing pains, there would be mistakes along the way, but they knew what their part was and when that happens and you have talent and you have structure, which Mike has given them as far as coaching, the end result usually takes care of itself."
Another thing these Maple Leafs have in common with Lamoriello's first Devils team is that not much was expected of either. But as Lamoriello said, "Once you go into the playoffs, you basically dismiss everything that transpired during the [regular] season.
"In your mind you know what you need to succeed. You feel you have a good idea of what your team is, you certainly know your opponent because you have to play against them and they're usually in an area where you see them play a lot and you also know what the expectations are.
"Coming in, I guess you could say there were no expectations other than internally and what we expected of ourselves. Then when you get into the games that we've been in now, the expectations become a little different and you're not satisfied. That's what the playoffs are all about and what brings out the best in you."
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