BOSTON – The Toronto Maple Leafs might have been the only ones thinking they were in a playoff chase a month ago. Now, the rest of the Eastern Conference better pay attention.
Bryan McCabe had a goal and three assists to lead the resurgent Maple Leafs to an 8-2 win over the Boston Bruins on Thursday night.
McCabe, Alexei Ponikarovsky, Matt Stajan and Nik Antropov scored in a four-goal second period as Toronto turned a tight game into a rout. Antropov finished with two goals.
Toronto, which looked to be buried outside the conference’s tight playoff chase three weeks ago, won for the seventh time in 10 games. The Maple Leafs are six points behind Philadelphia for the final playoff spot.
“I think it’s something all of us believed in clearly,” left-wing Alex Steen said. “We’ve certainly kept the faith and believed we can make the playoffs. The last five weeks or so we’ve played pretty solid hockey.”
Toronto scored four power-play goals.
“We’ve got to win those games against the teams were trying to catch,” Maple Leafs coach Paul Maurice said.
Boston has had big problems lately. The Bruins, who won six straight before a current three-game winless streak, have lost a pair of lopsided games this week, also dropping a 10-2 decision against Washington on Monday.
“I don’t think it’s time to panic,” Boston coach Claude Julien said. “It’s certainly time to make the adjustments and address. I don’t know if it’s we’re totally out of sync or the pressure. We’ve just got to take a step back.”
Peter Schaefer and Phil Kessel had the goals for Boston.
“I’m not going to take any credit away from Toronto. They played a good game, too. They’re fighting for their lives,” Bruins centre Marc Savard said. “It’s like we’ve got to get back to doing that for us.”
Maple Leafs centre Mats Sundin played his 1,300th career game, becoming the NHL’s 46th player to reach that mark, and scored his team-leading 30th goal. He has 553 in his career.
The game was tied 1-1 after one period before the Maple Leafs chased Boston goaltender Tim Thomas in the second.
“We’re just a little fragile right now,” Thomas said. “We haven’t really been that all year.”
Ponikarovsky scored when his shot caromed in off the right post, making it 2-1 at 1:17. McCabe’s wrister from the left circle ricocheted off Boston forward Chuck Kobasew’s skate and past Thomas just 3:31 later.
The Bruins’ goaltender then allowed a pair of weak goals before being pulled with 8:10 left in the period.
Stajan scored on a tough angle, slipping a shot between Thomas’ pads from along the goal line outside the right post, to make it 4-1.
Antropov’s 25th of the season, a wrist shot from the right circle, made it 5-1. Thomas came out and slid kind of awkwardly to his side as the puck slipped under his body.
After Thomas was replaced by Alex Auld, he headed straight for the runway and down the ramp that leads to the dressing room before returning to the bench late in the period.
Darcy Tucker had a power-play goal in the third, Antropov added his second, and Sundin scored with 4:55 to play.
Boston grabbed a 1-0 lead on Schaefer’s goal 11:40 into the game, but Toronto tied it on Jason Blake’s power-play score 3:02 later.
Notes: The Maple Leafs entered with the league’s 24th ranked power play. … It was the teams’ sixth meeting, with Boston winning the first three. … Thomas was also pulled in his last start at Washington on Monday. … Sundin has six goals and seven assists in his last seven games.