The Toronto Maple Leafs are clinging to their slim playoffs hopes and getting a feel for what the postseason might be like if their late charge falls short.
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Nazem Kadri scored the only shootout goal to help Toronto beat the Boston Bruins 4-3 on Thursday night, lifting the Maple Leafs to their fifth victory in six games.
It’s the best stretch they’ve had since opening the new year with four straight wins.
”It was a playoff atmosphere,” Toronto coach Ron Wilson said. ”If that’s the only playoffs we see, it can make the team better.”
With the point for reaching overtime, the Bruins clinched a tie for the Northeast Division title. The next Boston win or loss by Montreal will give the Bruins the division title.
But they were hardly happy.
”We certainly didn’t play the way we could and didn’t bring our `A’ game,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. ”Not as good of an effort.”
Toronto is 10th in the Eastern Conference, five points behind seventh-place Buffalo and the New York Rangers for one of the eight playoff spots.
”Another character win playing against a really good team, a top team in the East and being down by one going into the third,” Toronto defenseman Dion Phaneuf said.
Joffrey Lupul scored twice for Toronto, Luke Scheen added a goal and former Bruins forward Phil Kessel had a pair of assists. Brad Marchand, David Krejci and Andrew Ference scored for Boston.
The Bruins lost the season series 4-2 to the Maple Leafs.
”We’ve been playing pretty good hockey lately,” Marchand said. ”We didn’t have a bad game tonight. We bounced back from a bad first period. They’re a good team. I think a lot of people underestimate them.”
Bruins goalie Tim Thomas, who made 28 saves, made a right-pad save on Mikhail Grabovski’s penalty shot 43 seconds into overtime, but Kadri beat him with a backhand shot over the left shoulder in the shootout.
Tyler Seguin, Michael Ryder and Rich Peverley each failed in the shootout for the Bruins. James Reimer made a glove stop on Peverley to end it.
Both Seguin and Ryder shot over the net.
”If your game is not at a certain level and you are not competing and not matching intensity that’s what it boils down to,” Ference said. ”They are a team that has played us real well.”
Grabovski was awarded the penalty shot when he was hooked by Steven Kampfer after beating Zdeno Chara for a clean breakaway. Thomas also made a sliding right-pad save on that scoring bid.
Boston had a power play for the final 1:05 of overtime after Lupul was whistled for slashing, but Reimer made a couple of good stops on long-range shots. He finished with 35 saves.
Lupul’s second of the game tied it at 3 with just over 12 minutes left in the third period. He slipped a wrister past Thomas from the right circle.
Trailing 1-0, the Bruins came out strong in the second period after limited number of scoring chances in the first.
Marchand’s short-handed goal tied it just 2:09 into the period. He collected a loose puck nearly center ice, shifted around winger Clarke MacArthur and lifted a backhander by Reimer for his fifth short-handed goal of the season.
Krejci’s goal gave Boston a 2-1 edge just 59 seconds later when he redirected Milan Lucic’s pass into the net from the top of the crease.
But Toronto tied it at 2 on Lupul’s power-play goal at 7:06 before the Bruins took the lead on Ference’s goal 1:25 later. Ference charged from the point to a loose puck along the boards and fired a shot that deflected off a Maple Leafs player and between Reimer’s pads.
The Maple Leafs grabbed a 1-0 lead on Scheen’s goal 7:06 into the opening period. His shot from the left point deflected off a Boston player in front and caromed past Thomas.
NOTES: Chara left the bench late in the second period and didn’t return until early in the third. … Boston LW Shawn Thornton missed the game after suffering a 40-stitch gash on his forehead Tuesday night in a victory over Chicago. … Lucic assisted on the second goal, making him just the 10th player in the NHL since 2004-05 with 30 goals, 30 assists and 100 penalty minutes in a season. He added to those numbers with a crowd-pleasing fight with Jay Rosehill later in the period.