TORONTO – The Boston Bruins seem to be gearing up for a long playoff run.
After holding a comfortable lead the Eastern Conference for most of the year, the Bruins can finally see the start of the post-season coming into view.
A 7-5 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs left Boston with just eight games remaining on its schedule. Coach Claude Julien believes each of them is important even though his team seems destined to wrap up the No. 1 seed a little early.
“We’ve got our own issues,” he said. “Just because we’re in a playoff spot doesn’t mean that everything’s OK. Our play in the last month and a half hasn’t been up to par. We need to get better in our game.
“So those games do mean something for us. It’s about fine-tuning ourselves and getting some momentum heading into the playoffs.”
He was happy with everything but the team’s defensive play against the Maple Leafs.
One possible explanation for the lapses was the fact that Boston hadn’t played in five days. The stretch of inactivity was even longer for backup goalie Manny Fernandez, who got his first start since March 8.
It wasn’t an excuse many Bruins went for. Fernandez, for one, didn’t think the break should be a reason for the team to struggle.
“You want to take that positively,” he said. “Playoffs are around the corner. I think at that point it would be a good time to have maybe five days off and maybe rest a little bit.
“We’ve been hoping to turn things around and that’s the direction we’re trying to take.”
Mark Recchi scored two goals in the win while Dennis Wideman and Matt Hunwick each added three assists. Chuck Kobasew, Michael Ryder, Shawn Thornton, David Krejci and Blake Wheeler also scored for Boston (47-17-10).
Alexei Ponikarovsky, with two, Nikolai Kulemin, John Mitchell and Niklas Hagman replied for the Maple Leafs (31-32-13).
“It’s a tough loss, giving up seven goals is never fun,” said Hagman. “We made it tough on our goalies. As a team, we need to play better.”
The goals came fast and furious on a night where both teams got some suspect goaltending.
Rookie Justin Pogge was chased from the Leafs net in the second period after allowing six of 20 shots to beat him. He’s now 1-4-1 in six NHL starts.
“The bounces just weren’t going my way,” said Pogge. “I’ve got to make myself bigger in there.”
Toronto kept it close until midway through the game.
Ponikarovsky actually put the Maple Leafs ahead 4-3 when he scored his second goal of the night at 6:06 of the second period. That was his third point of the evening and the 14th he’s put up in the last seven games.
Boston roared ahead by scoring three goals over a span of 3:43. Recchi tied it with his second power-play goal on a tip-in at 9:01 before Thornton put the Bruins ahead for good at 11:30. His long shot through traffic seemed to fool Pogge.
It provided a big thrill for the tough guy who grew up in Toronto, who didn’t mind seeing so many goals being scored.
“Everyone pays $450 bucks a ticket so they got their money’s worth anyways,” said Thornton. “I only know that because I had to buy them for my parents.”
Leafs coach Ron Wilson called a timeout at that point to try and settle his team, but Krejci made it 6-4 for the Bruins at 12:44 by beating Pogge on a breakaway.
Curtis Joseph was sent in relief – the reverse of what happened during a 5-3 loss in Buffalo on Friday – but the game was put out of reach when Wheeler scored at 17:04.
As the Bruins took a 7-4 lead to the dressing room after 40 minutes, it highlighted a big disparity between teams at opposite ends of the conference. Toronto has trailed through two periods in 40 games this season; the Bruins have done so just 14 times.
Not surprisingly, they were able to cruise home from there.
“(It wasn’t the way) we wanted to play, but obviously we’ll never not take the win,” said Recchi. “We didn’t play the way we’re capable of playing, especially defensively. That was the biggest thing.
“We had the idea of going in and playing stingy but it just didn’t happen that way. Tomorrow we’re going to have to be a lot sharper.”
They face Philadelphia on Sunday as the NHL schedule enter its final two weeks. Recchi is looking forward to the stretch drive as much as anyone.
“We played two games in 12 days – now we’ll get into a bit of a groove here,” he said.
Notes: Boston won five of six against the Maple Leafs this season … Defenceman Jay Harrison played his first game for Toronto in two years after signing a free-agent contract earlier this week … Bruins forward Phil Kessel missed the game with an undisclosed injury … Leafs goalie Martin Gerber served the second game of his three-game suspension … Bruins assistant coach Craig Ramsey got hit with the puck in the first minute of the game – he was OK … Announced attendance was 19,360.