Toronto Maple Leafs head coach Randy Carlyle stands on the bench during NHL hockey action in Toronto on March 3, 2014. Playing three games in four nights is a test for any team. It gets even tougher when the opponents are the top three teams in the Atlantic Division. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chris Young
TORONTO - Playing three games in four nights is a test for any team. It gets even tougher when the opponents are the top three teams in the Atlantic Division.
The Toronto Maple Leafs left Sunday for California, where they'll face the Anaheim Ducks, San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings.
"We're going to see some real good hockey teams," coach Randy Carlyle said Saturday night. "We've got to understand there's a certain style of game we've got to play on the road. We have to skate. We're a skating hockey club."
This trip, which continues on to Washington and then Detroit after three games on the West Coast, could show exactly what kind of team Toronto is.
By the time they left on a jet plane, the Leafs found themselves one point back of the Montreal Canadiens for second place in the Atlantic Division with a game in hand with 17 left to go before the end of the regular season. Of course they're also one bad swoon and a run by a team like the Red Wings away from falling out of a playoff spot altogether.
Beating the Philadelphia Flyers on Saturday night after squandering two third-period leads gave the Leafs two straight overtime victories that made them confident and grateful for four vital points.
"It was something that was said a bit in the room before to get a win at home because it's going to be a difficult trip," winger Joffrey Lupul said. "That's not to say we can't win these games and compete, but it's a lot easier heading out on a big trip like this after a win."
Lupul called the trip a "good measuring stick" because the Leafs will have to deal with three of the NHL's top-five defences. That could test the secondary offence that came through so well against the Flyers when the top line of James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak and Phil Kessel were held off the score sheet.
"That's when we're at our best, when the top two lines are contributing equally," second-line centre Nazem Kadri said. "Especially heading down the stretch here against these playoff-contending teams and heading into the playoffs, that's something that's going to win you games - secondary scoring."
Secondary scoring is all well and good, but when it comes to offence the Leafs will more than likely go as far as Kessel takes them. He has two goals and three assists in five games since the end of the Olympic break despite making enough of an impact with the U.S. team in Sochi to attract even more attention from opponents.
"Teams are going to continue to key on Phil," Lupul said. "He's one of the top scorers in the league. That's something he's just going to have to deal with and for us that means it should open up a little more room for us and we've got to take some of the pressure off them."
The pressure on the Leafs this week is the knowledge that they're facing a Ducks team that's leading the NHL in points going into Sunday's games and a Kings squad that was riding a six-game winning streak into Sunday's game in Edmonton.
After visiting Anaheim's Honda Center on Monday, the Leafs go right to San Jose's SAP Center for Tuesday's game. They then travel back to Southern California to face Los Angeles at Staples Center on Thursday.
"Those are always hard buildings to play in," defenceman Jake Gardiner said. "They're the top of the conference, top of the league, so it's going to be tough."
Forgetting for a minute about the degree of difficulty, the timing itself is a challenge. Lupul knows he and his teammates won't have as much rest as they would like over the next few days.
Winger Troy Bodie, who could continue to see an increased role if David Clarkson misses more time, considers rest part of the big picture this week.
"We need some points out there," Bodie said. "There's not many left to be had, and we've got to just make sure we're on our A-game and take care of ourselves."