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Joel Edmundson settling in with Maple Leafs

TORONTO – Sheldon Keefe picked apart the tape after every game.

One thing became abundantly clear to the Maple Leafs head coach in the first round of the 2021 playoffs — if Toronto’s forwards wanted to get to the front of Montreal’s net, defenceman Joel Edmundson was probably there waiting.

And it wasn’t going to be a pleasant experience.

“He made it miserable,” Keefe recalled Monday. “I can’t remember how many times you’re watching the video back and you think there could be five or six minor penalties called on each shift.

“He’s ultracompetitive around the most dangerous area.”

Montreal came back from a 3-1 series deficit to stun Toronto in seven games that spring, with the nastiness around the Canadiens’ crease shown by a blue-line corps that featured Edmundson among the big factors.

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Acquired by the Leafs ahead of this year’s NHL trade deadline, the veteran blueliner is looking to bring similar snarl.

“Hell of a series,” Edmundson said of the 2021 matchup following his first practice in Toronto. “Could have gone either way.”

Star centre Auston Matthews — one of six holdovers from the team that fumbled three chances to snuff out the Canadiens — remembers the six-foot-five, 221-pound Edmundson’s presence.

“Heavy stick, heavy lumber there in front,” he said of the 2019 Stanley Cup winner with St. Louis. “Makes it hard on you.”

The Brandon, Man., product was added Thursday from Washington for a third-round pick at June’s NHL draft along with a 2025 fifth-rounder.

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Toronto made a big splash ahead of last year’s deadline when former general manager Kyle Dubas, who was fired in May despite the Leafs advancing in the playoffs for the first time since 2004, pushed a boatload of trade chips into the middle.

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Brad Treliving, in his first season at the helm, was more measured in securing Edmundson, fellow defenceman Ilya Lyubushkin and centre Connor Dewar thanks to a shallow pool of picks and prospects along with limited salary cap space.

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The Leafs GM said less than an hour after Friday’s 3 p.m. ET trade cutoff that answers to any roster questions would have to come from inside the locker room’s four walls.

“The cap situation is the cap situation,” Toronto winger Ryan Reaves said. “We’ve got the guys in here that can get it done.”

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Keefe, who indicated top-line winger Mitch Marner is “unlikely” to play Thursday because of a lower-body injury that kept him sidelined Saturday, said the deadline now sitting in the rear-view mirror gives some players a chance to exhale.

Leafs defenceman Timothy Liljegren, for example, was pushed down the depth chart the last two seasons, but was in the lineup alongside Edmundson for Saturday’s victory in Montreal.

“For different players, the deadline means different things,” Keefe said. “There’s a number of guys that, any time there’s a player coming in or out, it may directly affect them.

“It has an impact.”

Toronto, meanwhile, is banking on the dependable, stay-at-home Edmundson having an impact now — and once the schedule flips to the post-season.

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“The refs let more slide,” the 30-year-old said of how his game translates in the spring. “I play my best hockey in playoffs.”

“He makes it a nightmare for guys,” Reaves added of those cross-checks in the slot. “You’re gonna pay the price.”

So, have any Leafs brought up the heartbreaking — at least from their perspective — series back in 2021?

“Not yet,” Edmundson said. “Waiting for it, though.”

MARNER OUT

The forward sat out Saturday after getting hurt Thursday in Boston.

The injury comes during a lighter portion of the calendar after Toronto played seven times in 12 days.

“It’s good for our whole team,” Keefe said of the break before Thursday’s game in Philadelphia. “Tough stretch we just went through.”

MATTHEWS COOLING OFF?

The NHL’s goal leader has set a high bar with 54 in 63 games. But he’s scored just twice in his last eight outings, and is without a multi-point performance over that span.

“Stuff like that happens,” said Matthews, still on pace to score an eye-popping 69 times. “The puck’s not just gonna go in all the time.”

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Keefe isn’t concerned about his best player’s production.

“Things have fallen a lot for him,” he said. “And they will again.”

REAVO ON DEWAR

The 24-year-old from The Pas, Man., skated on Minnesota’s fourth line with Reaves in 2022-23.

The five-foot-10, 183-pound forward had six goals and 18 points in 81 games, but impressed his bruising teammate in other ways.

“Plays very hard,” said the six-foot-two, 225-pound Reaves. “He dropped the mitts a couple times with guys that are bigger than him.

“One of our best penalty killers … direct, but very hard-nosed.”

MOOSE JAW REUNION

Edmundson and Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly played 2 1/2 seasons in junior with the Western Hockey League’s Moose Jaw Warriors.

“We were rookies together,” Edmunsdon said. “Nice to be reunited.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published March 11, 2024.

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&© 2024 The Canadian Press

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