Leafs, Bruins hoping to shake late-season woes
Workers position a Stanley Cup Playoffs logo onto the ice at TD Garden in Boston, following an NHL hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins on Sunday, April 28, 2013. The Senators won 4-2. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien, top right, and members of the Bruins team react from the bench as they fall behind in the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Ottawa Senators at the TD Garden, in Boston, Sunday, April 28, 2013. The Senators beat the Bruins 4-2. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Workers attach a Stanley Cup Playoffs logo onto the ice at TD Garden in Boston, following an NHL hockey game between the Ottawa Senators and the Boston Bruins on Sunday, April 28, 2013. The Senators won 4-2. (AP Photo/Steven Senne)
Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender James Reimer gets hit in the head as center Nazem Kadri (43) tries to hold off Montreal Canadiens center David Desharnais (51) during the second period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto on Saturday, April 27, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
Toronto Maple Leafs right winger Phil Kessel is congratulated on his goal against the Montreal Canadiens during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Toronto on Saturday, April 27, 2013. (AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn)
BOSTON – Forget about the way the Bruins and Maple Leafs stumbled into the playoffs. Pay no attention to how Boston has dominated Toronto in recent seasons.
That’s what both teams will be trying to do when they meet in the playoffs tonight for the first time since 1974.
“If things would’ve been going all our way, we would’ve been downplaying it the same way,” Bruins center Patrice Bergeron said yesterday.
The Bruins missed a chance to finish second in the Eastern Conference by losing seven of their last nine games. The Maple Leafs dropped four of their last six regular-season games and nine of 10 to Boston over the past two seasons. They’ve also lost 11 of their last 13 at TD Garden.
“I’d expect we’re going to get a Boston Bruins team that’s different than the last two weeks of their season and I’d expect we’re going to get a higher brand of hockey from our club also,” Maple Leafs Coach Randy Carlyle said.
Both teams are likely to get key scorers back from upper-body injuries – Nathan Horton for Boston and Tyler Bozak for Toronto. Horton missed five games and Bozak sat out two.
“I think we’re playing a little bit better. We’re just not scoring,” Horton said. “We get our chances but we didn’t put the teams away and we just gave them a chance to stick around. That’s how they come back and that’s in the past now. We don’t want to think of that.”
The Bruins’ 131 goals were eighth in the conference and they scored only 18 in their last nine games. The Leafs were fifth with 145 goals and now expect Bozak, who had 12 goals and 16 assists this season, to be ready for the opener of Toronto’s first playoff series in nine years.
“When you have a player that takes all the important faceoffs for you, that’s the first place you miss him,” Carlyle said. “Bozie is a real smart hockey player. He knows where to be on the ice. The puck kind of follows him around and his game is one where he does a lot of the little things that aren’t noticed, but you notice them when he’s not there.”
One focal point will be former Bruins player Phil Kessel and Boston’s Tyler Seguin, two top young forwards. Boston traded Kessel to Toronto in September 2009 for three draft choices, two of whom turned out to be first-rounders: Seguin and rookie defenseman Dougie Hamilton. Both have played key roles this season.
In 16 games against Toronto, Seguin has 10 goals and six assists. Kessel has fared much worse against Boston with three goals and six assists in 22 games – and he’s had to endure the jeers of Bruins fans.
“They are obviously going to be loud, probably going to be giving it to Phil a little bit,” Bozak said. “We’re used to that when we go there, but it might be a little bit more upscale this time around.”
Kessel probably will have more problems with a Bruins defense that allowed just 109 goals, second fewest in the East.
But the Maple Leafs became a bit tougher themselves against opposing puck handlers as the season progressed.
“I think they’ve improved a lot really on their forecheck, on the way that they pressure,” Bergeron said. “They really come hard, and they’re in your face, and they’re a pretty physical team. So we’re expecting that.”
Boston missed a chance to be seeded second in the conference when it lost 4-2 to the Ottawa Senators in the regular-season finale Sunday. That allowed Montreal to take that spot while the Bruins slipped to fourth. The Maple Leafs earned the fifth seed.
“It doesn’t matter if we finished first or eighth,” Boston goalie Tuukka Rask said. “You make the playoffs, you’ve still got to start with a clean sheet. And I think nobody’s even talked about the regular season anymore. We’re focused on the playoffs.”