This would be a great time for Brian Boyle to start displaying some of the veteran savvy (and perhaps even a little offence) the Maple Leafs were hoping for when they acquired him from Tampa Bay at the trade deadline.
Thursday night's game, after all, is in Tampa Bay against the Lightning, and with Toronto's playoff hopes taking a hit with a 7-2 loss to Florida on Tuesday, maybe Boyle can help cajole a solid rebound performance out of his mostly young teammates.
Perhaps a game against his old club will help the 32-year-old veteran fourth-line centre to be a catalyst in getting Toronto back on the winning track. He knows it won't be easy against a team that has won four straight and is 7-2-1 in its past 10 games.
"It feels a little weird to be back, but I'm excited," Boyle said. "It's a big, big game."
Toronto (31-23-14, 76 points) is one point out of the final wild-card spot in the East, which currently belongs to the New York Islanders (77 points). Tampa Bay (77 points) has also leapfrogged Toronto in the standings after winning four in a row.
"They're playing well," Boyle said. "The staples of their game are speed and skill. The goaltending is good. We have a tough challenge and that is something we should embrace."
Boyle, a solid pro, has not made a huge immediate impact on the Maple Leafs since being acquired Feb. 27 for centre Byron Froese and a 2017 second-round draft pick. He has two assists, including one Tuesday in Florida, and has averaged 12:24 of ice time in seven games with the Maple Leafs.
Whatever it takes
Boyle admitted it's going to be strange playing against his former team, but made it clear his intention is to lead his new club to victory.
"The warm-up, having done it before, is the weirdest part," Boyle said. "You look over and see a bunch of guys who were teammates just a few weeks ago. But there's a lot on the line. You have to be a pro and get over that in a hurry and go out and compete and battle.
"[Toronto] gave up something to get me and it's up to me to make sure I do my best to help this team going forward."
Boyle is a physical player and said he'll do whatever it takes to help the Leafs win in Tampa Bay, even if it means roughing up an old pal.
"It's all about competing," Boyle said. "Obviously they got rid of me — they traded me. I guess they didn't need me that much so I've got to go out and prove to them, 'Hey, listen, I'm on this team now and I'm here to win.'"
As much as Boyle is excited to face his former team, Lightning players also understand they have a job to do Thursday night. Part of that job is dealing with the 6-foot-6, 244-pound Boyle.
"It's going to be strange," said Lightning defenceman Victor Hedman. "But at the same time it's a game. He's a very good friend and it's going to be different [playing against him], but you've got to put that aside come game time."