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Goaltender Tim Thomas shuts down Leafs as Boston beats Toronto 3-0

The race in the Eastern Conference got even tighter on Tuesday after Thomas stopped 44 shots to help Boston to a 3-0 win over the Toronto Maple Leafs. The Bruins moved within four points of the ninth-place Maple Leafs and hold a game in hand. Carolina is in eighth after a 3-1 loss to Atlanta, while Montreal beat Washington 5-3 to move into seventh, two points up on the Leafs.

Many had tabbed the Bruins to be sellers at next Tuesday's trade deadline. Suddenly, they've won five of six and are right back in the mix.

"Nobody wants to see anybody get traded," said Thomas. "Every team ends up being like a family. It's kind of odd to have people come in and out.

"Our job is just to do the best we can in the locker-room. We can't control what management does."

Chiarelli, currently in Florida at the GM's meetings, almost certainly took note.

After all, this was a game heavily tilted in Toronto's favour at the outset. Boston was without Glen Murray and Patrice Bergeron, two of its top three forwards, and was playing for the second time in as many nights.

But some solid goaltending from Thomas and a goals from unlikely contributors helped the Bruins to victory.

"We really needed this win," said Bruins forward P.J. Axelsson. "Things are looking better right now."

Axelsson, who has played his entire career in Boston, also hopes Chiarelli keeps the team intact.

Heading into games this week against Tampa Bay and Florida, he believes the Bruins are on the rise.

"At least now we're in it," said Axelsson. "If we would of lost today we would have been eight points behind Toronto and now it's four. That's a little bit better.

"We would like to think (we're a playoff team)."

Toronto thinks of itself in similar fashion, which makes Tuesday's result all the more frustrating.

The Maple Leafs controlled play for much of the night but couldn't solve Thomas, who won for the third time this season at Air Canada Centre.

"It was a missed opportunity, absolutely," said Leafs captain Mats Sundin. "We need to come back tomorrow and there's no time to hang our heads."

Coach Paul Maurice said the pending trade deadline is not a distraction for his team.

Unlike the Bruins, there haven't been any rumours that the Leafs might be blown up before Feb. 27.

"There's nobody in that locker room or in the medical room that's had to read his name in the paper the last month and half," said Maurice. "That didn't have any affect."

Goals from some lesser-known players did.

Jason York, with his first goal in more than three years, Stanislav Chistov, with his first in 20 games, and Axelsson scored for the Bruins (29-26-4). There was no reply from Toronto (29-23-8).

Andrew Raycroft made his 21st straight start for the Maple Leafs and stopped 10 shots before being replaced by J-S Aubin to the start the third period. Few would have predicted it would come to that.

"It's a frustrating loss, but at the same time we can't get down," said Raycroft. "It's going to be close all the way to the end, all the way to the playoffs."

Like so many other nights on home ice this season, Toronto was unable to exert its advantage. They were given a 5-on-3 power play less than five minutes into the game, but only had a Nik Antropov shot off the post to show for it.

Chistov opened the scoring for Boston at 7:13 after the puck bounced all over Raycroft's crease. The Leafs goalie lunged to smother the puck as Chistov whacked it into the empty goal. He hadn't scored since Dec. 26.

The Bruins looked content to sit on that early advantage. They rarely threatened the Toronto goal until Axelsson broke in on a short-handed rush and wired a shot over Raycroft's glove at 14:14 of the second period.

The Maple Leafs must have been wondering what more they needed to do. They had pinned the Bruins deep in their own end for much of the night but couldn't solve Thomas.

York only added to their frustration when he scored at 17:41 of the second to make it 3-0. Boston forward Brandon Bochenski stole the puck off Leafs defenceman Pavel Kubina behind the goal and fed it out to York at the point. His long shot made it through everyone. It was the veteran defenceman's first goal since Jan. 8, 2004, when he was a member of the Nashville Predators.

"I was pretty pumped," he said. "It gave us a nice little cushion."

Toronto led 26-13 on the shots counter after two periods but trailed 3-0. Some of the 19,578 in attendance booed as the players headed to the dressing room.

It probably didn't catch any of the Maple Leafs by surprise. Now 12-13-5 on home ice, they've heard it before.

"We've been working really hard to get a consistent game going," said Toronto forward Alex Steen. "Tonight we didn't do that. We didn't score, we weren't skating, we didn't move the puck around well.

"These games are tough to explain."

Notes: Brad Boyes assisted on Boston's second goal. It was just his third point in 25 games . . . Toronto defenceman Brendan Bell skated at forward for a second straight game . . . Leafs centre Matt Stajan hasn't scored in 18 games . . . Bruins centre Marc Savard has 273 points (83-190) in 243 games since the Calgary Flames traded him to Atlanta for prospect Ruslan Zainullin in November 2002. Zainullin has yet to play in the NHL.



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