Boston, MA- At the beginning of the season, when the Boston Bruins saw Toronto on the schedule, it usually brought a smile to their faces. Lately, that has not been the case. The first three games between the Bruins and the Maple Leafs were controlled by Boston. It seemed like no matter what the Bruins did, it worked. They started three different netminders, and came out on top all three times by scores of 5-2, 4-2, and 2-1. The last three games have been exactly the opposite, and it has gotten one step worse in each game. The first setback was a 3-2 shootout loss on January 17th at the TD Banknorth Garden. In February, the scene shifted up to Toronto, and despite a last minute goal by Zdeno Chara to tie the game, Darcy Tucker won the game for the Maple Leafs in overtime. The latest meeting took place on March 6th in Boston. After a shootout loss and an overtime loss, the next step on the totem pole was a regulation loss. This was no ordinary regulation loss as Toronto romped the Bruins 8-2. For those fans looking for a positive to take from an 8-2 loss, the Maple Leafs clobbered Boston 10-2 in a game last season. The next head-to-head meeting was a 3-0 win for the Bruins.
Now that the Toronto Maple Leafs have gone on a tear by winning 12 of their last 17 games, Tuesday and Thursday night take on new meaning. Sitting in 14th place at the trade deadline, most of the reporters around Canada were saying that the Leafs were completely out of the race and that they should trade away all of its' star players. As far as the team is concerned, it's a good thing they didn't listen to their local media. Entering the final two weeks of the regular season, the Maple Leafs have moved into 12th place in the Eastern Conference with 80 points. 12th place may sound like a long way from the playoffs, but the separation from 8th place Boston is quite slim. The Bruins do have a game in hand against Toronto, and have a total of 84 points. With two head-to-head matchups this week, there is the potential for an eight point swing. If Boston can sweep the Leafs, they will take an eight point lead, and pretty much eliminate them from playoff contention. On the other hand, if Toronto turns the tables and sweeps the Bruins, we'll see a tie at 84 points. If the two teams split, they will be right back where they started with Boston still ahead by four.
When it comes to scoring in the season series, the Maple Leafs certainly got some help from their eight goal output the last time the two teams met. The leading scorer between the clubs is Toronto defenseman Tomas Kaberle with eight points. Kaberle has yet to score a goal against the Bruins, but his eight helpers make up for it. Second place has a tie. Mats Sundin has two goals and five assists for the Maple Leafs, while Marc Savard has one goal and six assists to account for seven points. The goals have been a bit more spread out among the teams as four different players sit at the top with three. Peter Schaefer and Chuck Kobasew each have three goals for the Bruins. Nik Antropov and Darcy Tucker have three goals each for the Leafs. Other players of note from the previous six games are Bryan McCabe, Alex Steen, and Zdeno Chara. Each of those players has six points. Chara and McCabe have picked up two of their six points with goals, and Steen has five assists.
In goal, the Maple Leafs experimented with Andrew Raycroft during the first game of the season series and realized that probably wasn't the best idea. Raycroft let in five goals on 27 shots in his lone start against his former team. Since then, it has been all Vesa Toskala. In five starts, Toskala has a 3-2 record, and has allowed 12 goals in those five contests for a goals against average under 2.50. Toskala's .908 save percentage against Boston isn't bad, but take into consideration that he has only faced 30 or more shots once in the five games. The Bruins have used three different netminders against Toronto, and all three have picked up wins. Tim Thomas has seen the most action with a 1-1-1 record. Thomas faced 36 shots in each of his first two starts, turning aside 34 in a win, and 32 in an overtime loss. His third start saw Thomas get yanked after allowing five goals on 23 shots. When all is said and done, Thomas has an .884 save percentage in the season series. Alex Auld is 1-0 in two appearances, allowing five goals on 50 shots. Tuukka Rask made 30 saves on 32 shots to win his only game against the team that drafted him.
Although the Bruins will be focusing mostly on the Maple Leafs for the early part of the week, there are plenty of other teams to watch for in the Eastern Conference playoff race. The Philadelphia Flyers lead the Bruins by two points for 7th place in the playoff race, but will face the challenge of playing three games away from home this week against teams that have the word "New" in their names. The Flyers visit the Rangers on Tuesday, the Devils on Thursday, and the Islanders on Saturday. The Washington Capitals are on the outside looking in by two points, but have won seven of their last ten games. The Capitals are also away from home all week, taking trips to Carolina on Tuesday, Tampa Bay on Thursday, and Florida on Saturday. Division rival Buffalo is in 10th place with 81 points. Their big game comes on Sunday when they host the Bruins, but before the Sabres get there, they have some work to do. Buffalo plays a home-and-home series with Ottawa on Tuesday and Thursday, then gets to host the conference leading Canadiens on Friday. The other team suddenly in the race is the Florida Panthers, who have won gone 8-1-1 in their last ten games. Florida visits Tampa Bay on Tuesday before coming home on Thursday and Saturday to face Atlanta and Washington.
Faceoff is set for 7:30 on Tuesday night at the Air Canada Centre as the Boston Bruins and Toronto Maple Leafs kick start a home-and-home series. The Providence Bruins are getting some rest as they prepare for a three game weekend at home that starts Friday night against the Springfield Falcons.