Maple Leafs-Bruins Preview
The Boston Bruins sat seventh in the Eastern Conference at this point last season before collapsing down the stretch and missing the playoffs.
Perfectly aware they're in the same position this season, the Bruins have no plans of suffering the same fate.
Postseason talk is far off for Toronto coach Mike Babcock, who hopes the last-place Maple Leafs can snap out of their scoring funk and avoid a fifth consecutive loss to Boston on Tuesday night.
The Bruins (26-18-5) are in the thick of a tight East race coming out of the All-Star break and won five of six before falling 6-2 to Anaheim last Tuesday. The club is fourth in the Atlantic but just one point behind Tampa Bay and Detroit, which hold the final two of the division's three automatic playoff berths.
Boston held one of the conference's wild-card spots heading into last February but ended up losing its last three games of the season and finished two points behind Pittsburgh for the final slot.
"A lot can happen, and we saw that last year," said forward Brad Marchand, whose five-game scoring streak ended against the Ducks. "It doesn't really matter where we are right now. It's more about where we are at the end of the year. One point can be the difference."
Every Bruins player enjoyed time off during the break except Patrice Bergeron, who was excused from Monday's practice by coach Claude Julien after playing in the All-Star Game a day earlier.
Tuukka Rask was expected to get an extra day off, but he was forced into action against Anaheim when Jonas Gustavsson was removed after the first period because of an illness. Gustavsson has been placed on injured reserve, and Malcolm Subban was recalled from the AHL on Monday.
"That's what you try to do when you get a break - really take your mind off the game of hockey a little bit and get ready for that grind because the second half after the All-Star break is always very hectic," Rask said. "Every team is fighting for that playoff spot. It's going to be really tight, so hopefully we're ready for that."
Rask has a 1.62 goals-against average while winning all three meetings with the Maple Leafs (17-22-9) this season, including a 3-2 victory in the most recent Jan. 16. Marchand's scoring streak began on his winner with 47 seconds remaining in that one.
Bergeron scored twice and has 10 goals and nine assists over his last 12 - including playoffs - against Toronto, which is tied for the fewest points in the league.
The Leafs have scored 11 times during a 1-7-2 slump that includes four straight losses, two coming by a 1-0 score. Tampa Bay got the game's only goal in the first period Wednesday as Toronto dropped to 0 for 26 on the power play over its last nine.
Babcock tinkered with his lines in Monday's practice hoping to provide a spark.
"We've had a lot (of scoring chances) and don't finish. We've had a ton on the power play and we don't finish," Babcock said. "We've got to figure out a way to score some goals. We went through this early and we're going through it now. We've got to continue to fight hard and work through it."
James Reimer will get the start in net against the Bruins. He's tied for second in the league with a .932 save percentage but has lost nine of his last 10 starts. Reimer has also dropped his last four regular-season outings against Boston despite a 1.70 GAA.