Maple Leafs-Bruins Preview
The Northeast Division-leading Bruins look to sweep the season series from the Maple Leafs for the first time in 20 years Monday night at TD Garden.
A disappointing last several weeks have essentially knocked Boston (41-27-3) out of contention for the top seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins are atop the division and second in the East, but finishing out of first place in the Northeast would likely drop them to one of the last few playoff spots in the conference.
Boston moved one point ahead of Ottawa in the division with a 3-2 shootout win over Philadelphia on Saturday afternoon, coupled with the Senators' 3-1 loss to the Maple Leafs (32-32-8) that night.
The Bruins snapped a four-game losing streak in which they surrendered 21 goals. Boston, outscored 10-1 in the first period during its skid, took a 2-0 first-period lead against the Flyers behind Chris Kelly's 17th goal and Tyler Seguin's team-leading 25th.
The Bruins squandered that lead but prevailed in the tiebreaker, improving to 8-2 in shootouts.
"Sometimes when you lose in a shootout, you take it personally. But if you win you feel real good,'' goaltender Tim Thomas said.
Thomas made 27 saves in regulation and overtime after recording a 5.73 goals-against average and .797 save percentage in his previous four games.
"I think we know that time is running out. With (11) games left, we know that it's important to bring that kind of effort,'' Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "You want to make sure you're playing your best hockey when the playoffs start. We want to build to that, and we've got a lot of building to do.''
There's good reason to believe Boston can build on its latest victory. The Bruins have outscored Toronto 28-10 in winning the first five meetings and are in position to sweep the season series for the first time since 1991-92, when they won all three contests.
In the most recent meeting in Toronto on March 6, Seguin and Jordan Caron each scored twice and Thomas stopped 25 shots to lead Boston to a 5-4 victory.
Seguin has six goals and three assists in the season series, while Milan Lucic has five goals and six assists.
Thomas, expected to appear in his 13th straight game with backup Tuukka Rask sidelined, has posted a 2.25 GAA with a shutout in his four starts against Toronto. He has gone 5-1-1 with a 2.64 GAA in his last seven home starts in the series.
The Leafs have won two in a row after winning twice in their previous 17 games. Former Bruin Phil Kessel had a goal and an assist Saturday, while Mikhail Grabovski earned his teammates' admiration for dropping the gloves against Senators enforcer Chris Neil.
"We've talked about playing with heart and intensity at this time year and everyone knows how difficult it's been the last couple of weeks,'' defenseman Mike Komisarek said. "We can build some momentum here and build off the positives.''
Kessel's goal was his team-leading 35th, bringing him within one of his single-season best set in 2008-09 with Boston. He has a goal and two assists against the Bruins this season.