In just two playoff games Jake Gardiner has provided glimpses of what could be, of what might have been more often this season had circumstances been different. There was that precision pass in Game 2 that sprung Tyler Bozak for an excellent scoring opportunity in Boston. The skating ability that allowed him to catch Jaromir Jagr in Game 3 in Toronto and force the future Hall of Famer into a weak shot on a partial breakaway. And then there was the power-play goal, the first home playoff marker for a Maple Leaf in nine years. It was fitting that a player who should be such a big part of the future of Toronto’s defence was there to help exorcise some demons from the past. “It was great, the crowd was going crazy. The team was all pumped up. It seems like everyone is just as excited as the guy who scored. It’s awesome,” Gardiner said Tuesday of his first NHL playoff goal the night before. “That was probably the biggest (goal of my career).” It likely won’t be his last big moment. Gardiner is a special player, you can see that already. At just 22 years of age, the 6-foot-2 product of the University of Wisconsin stands out as one of the best skaters on the ice. It’s a quality that allows him to cover up for some of his more reckless forays into the offensive zone. “The thing with Jake is that his skating ability separates him definitely from a lot of people. That’s his biggest asset,” Leafs coach Randy Carlyle said after the team practised in preparation for Game 4 at home against the Bruins on Wednesday night. “When he skates with the puck and moves up on the play and is active in the play — then you really notice him.” Given the right circumstances, Gardiner has the ability to be THE guy for the Leafs, a defenceman who can eventually quarterback the power play, the kind of blueliner who makes getting out of your own end that much easier. “If there’s ice, I am going to skate it, if there’s not I’m going to make a pass,” Gardiner said. His ability to move the puck is the reason why it would have been prudent for the Leafs to have had Gardiner playoff ready, instead of having him come into the post-season as a healthy scratch on many nights. But this has not been the kind of year most expected for the young defenceman. After being sidelined with a concussion in December while playing for the AHL Marlies, Gardiner was slow to get back to the Leafs when the lockout-shortened season started. And when he did, he lasted just two games, deemed not to be NHL ready by the coaching staff. You would have thought the numbers would have spoken for themselves, coming out of camp in 2011 to not only make the Leafs but to play significant minutes in 75 games.
D-man Gardiner should have been a regular for Leafs this season
Toronto Sun | May 8