Maple Leafs-Bruins Preview

The Boston Bruins have a comfortable lead in the Northeast

Division, but they are playing as though they have no margin for

error.

That’s actually the case for the Toronto Maple Leafs, who

despite very slim hopes are trying to make an unlikely run to the

playoffs.

The Bruins look to win their third straight and clinch the

division title when they host the surging Maple Leafs on Thursday

night.

Boston (43-23-10) is in third place in the Eastern Conference,

three points behind Washington, and has a seven-point lead over

Montreal in the Northeast. The Bruins need two points to secure

their second division title in three seasons.

Boston has won four of five, giving up three total goals in the

last five contests. The Bruins recorded their second shutout during

that stretch with a 3-0 win over Chicago on Tuesday – both coming

from Tim Thomas, who made 32 saves against the Blackhawks.

The Bruins have secured a playoff spot but have kept the

pressure on as they look to improve their seeding.

“It doesn’t matter that you clinch, I mean you still have to

play desperate hockey. And especially the teams we are facing are

playing for their playoff spots, playoff positions,” defenseman

Zdeno Chara told the team’s official website. “We want to get ready

for the playoffs, and improve our game.”

Thomas certainly hasn’t been coasting. The Vezina Trophy

favorite has lowered his NHL-leading goals-against average to 1.96

in winning his last four starts.

“It just gives us confidence,” center Patrice Bergeron said of

having Thomas in net. “We have a breakdown, we know that he’s there

for us. So it’s huge for confidence like that.”

Thomas and the Bruins, however, have had problems against the

Maple Leafs this season. Boston is 2-2-1 in the season series, with

Thomas going 1-2-1 with a 2.58 GAA. He gave up four goals in each

of his last two starts versus Toronto, both losses, the most recent

a 5-2 defeat March 19.

While the Bruins know they’re going to the playoffs, the Maple

Leafs (35-32-10) are unlikely to make it to the postseason despite

their recent strong play.

Toronto is in 10th place and several points behind Buffalo for

the eighth spot. The Maple Leafs improved their slight chances of

earning a playoff berth by beating the Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday, their

fourth victory in five games.

A loss to Buffalo would have virtually ended the Leafs’ hopes.

Toronto will likely need to win out to have any chance.

“We’re going to try and win all of our games and see what

happens,” coach Ron Wilson said. “If we don’t get in, we don’t get

in. But we’ll have given it our best shot.”

Mikhail Grabovski gave Toronto the lead in the second period and

the Maple Leafs outshot the Sabres 14-8 in the third. It was the

third time in five games they scored at least four goals.

Grabovski has three goals against the Bruins this season.

Rookie James Reimer has started the last two victories over

Boston. He had 28 saves Tuesday and has won five of his last six

starts.