Jake McCabe gets a front row seat to the Toronto playoff atmosphere in first postseason run

The veteran blueliner got his first taste of playoff action in the First Round with the Maple Leafs.

Jake McCabe gets a front row seat to the Toronto playoff atmosphere in first postseason run

Feature photo: Getty Images

Jake McCabe is soaking up every moment of his first Stanley Cup Playoff experience in one of hockey’s most passionate cities.

For the first eight seasons of his NHL career, the 29-year-old McCabe had no post-season games to his name.

That streak, however, is now a thing of the past.

Traded from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Toronto Maple Leafs on February 27, the veteran blueliner got his first taste of playoff action in the First Round, when the Maple Leafs ousted the Tampa Bay Lightning in six games.

Now, the native of Eau Claire, Wisconsin, is eager for more.

“It was a great feeling to get the win and to be able to be part of this group. Hopefully, this is just the beginning,” said the veteran of 504 regular-season NHL games in the days following the Leafs victory.

McCabe, who spent his first 346 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, the team who took him 44th overall in the 2012 NHL Draft, moved on to sign with the Blackhawks as a free agent in 2021. He is now understandably thrilled to be part of the playoff scene.

McCabe used his physical game to full effect in the opening series against the Lightning, blocking 10 shots and doling out 32 hits the seventh most of any player in the league this postseason while averaging 22:49 minutes of ice time.

As for what he would deem an impactful shift and game for himself, McCabe leaned towards keeping things simple at both ends of the ice.

“It would mean I disrupted a play, whether it was in the neutral zone or defensive zone and was able to transition the puck up to the forwards and spent the rest of the shift in the offensive zone. If I can do that and help keep the puck out of the net, that means it would be a pretty good night.”   

McCabe has high praise for his teammates, and not just for what they bring to the table at the most important time of the year.

“Our stars were obviously stars, and Samsonov was outstanding between the pipes in the First Round. We got contributions up and down the lineup. It was nice to see.”

Although he is not living downtown McCabe, his wife, Gaby, and their two young children, Georgia and Finn, reside west of the city  the left-handed defenceman is reminded, almost daily, just how connected the Maple Leafs are with their fans. 

Seeing it from the inside has been an eye-opening experience for McCabe.

“A couple of times, here and there, you’ll be out, and fans will come up and offer up some kind words. To be honest, it’s pretty crazy, man. It’s really cool to see. I’ve visited Canada plenty of times and I understand how big the sport is in general, but even being in Vancouver, Edmonton, pretty much all the Canadian cities, there is such a massive Leafs following that we have. Not even in Canada, but all the road cities we play in too. It’s pretty amazing when you see all those jerseys in warmup when you’re on the road. It’s really cool to be part of an atmosphere like that.”

McCabe is also grateful to have his own personal cheering section on the home front as a refuge from the on-ice pressure.   

“It’s definitely nice to turn the hockey brain off a little bit and be dad, to spend some time with my kids and with my wife. We were apart for quite some time when I got traded, so it was tough. Now, it’s great to be together. I just got back from the park. When I get to bed at a decent time and get a full night’s sleep, I can get up early and spend some time with the kids.”

McCabe and his family were quick to feel comfortable in Toronto, something he experienced before he had even slipped on the blue and white jersey.

“That’s the biggest thing. I can thank the players and the Leafs organization for making me and my family feel right at home. The guys and their significant others welcomed me, my wife and our kids right away, and made sure we were comfortable. Within an hour of me being traded, there were flowers at the front step of our place in Chicago for my wife, with a note welcoming us to Toronto. That small stuff goes a really long way.”

Going a long way is precisely what McCabe hopes to achieve in his first playoff experience.

“This is what you always dreamed of, that chance to play for the Stanley Cup. We are all focused on that same goal.”  

Toronto will face-off against the Florida Panthers in the Second Round.