Bruins and Maple Leafs thrilled with rematch of top Atlantic Division teams

Bruins and Maple Leafs thrilled with rematch of top Atlantic Division teams

Bruins and Maple Leafs thrilled with rematch of top Atlantic Division teams

BOSTON– Midway through the NHL season, the Boston Bruins have lost five games in regulation. One of those came against the Seattle Kraken at TD Garden on Thursday, their first regulation loss at home this season.

Another came Nov. 5, 2-1 against the Toronto Maple Leafs, in the only game between the top two teams in the Atlantic Division.

The Maple Leafs will get another shot at the Atlantic and NHL’s best team at TD Garden on Saturday (7 p.m. ET; NHLN, CBC, SNO, SNW, NESN, SN NOW).

And yet, as Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Thursday, “It’s not really a race at this point.

The Bruins (32-5-4) are nine points ahead of the Maple Leafs (26-10-7) in the Atlantic, and as Keefe pointed out, Boston has been at a historic pace.

“They’re playing at a pace that’s the highest winning percentage in NHL history,” Keefe said. “But we’d like to make sure they have to try and keep that pace going or we’re going to be there. So that’s really it.”

It just means Toronto needs to make the most of their chances.

“They were the class of the League, that’s for sure”, the defender Marc Giordano said. “We played against them at the beginning of the year. It was a good game. They are a fast team, a kind of home and away game, but [Saturday] it’s going to be an exciting game to play. I obviously think we want to see where they are and where we are right now and that will be a good test.

“If we’re going to give ourselves a chance of catching them, we need to be chipping away, snacking, throughout the next few weeks.”

And it’s possible the Maple Leafs could catch the Bruins at the right time. There was the hype of Boston hosting the 2023 NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2, a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Fenway Park, followed by a week-long trip to the West Coast, where the Bruins defeated the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks by a combined score of 16-5.

They will be two days away from the loss to the Kraken in which coach Jim Montgomery mentioned “mental fatigue” as part of the culprit.

Again, the Bruins haven’t lost consecutive games all season.

“It’s a bigger game than the average regular season game,” Montgomery said. “We have to get our game in order and tomorrow is a good opportunity against one of the teams…I would say Toronto, Carolina and ourselves have probably been the three teams that have always been the best so far. present this year. So it’s a good test for us.”

Complicating matters for the Maple Leafs is the potential absence of forwards Auston Matthews, who has 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games this season. He missed two games with an undisclosed injury, then Matthews woke up sick Thursday, Keefe said.

Video: Matthews’ 2 goals propel Maple Leafs to 2-1 win

Matthews scored both goals when the teams played in November, but this game was more about what the Maple Leafs did defensively, limiting the Bruins to a season-low 21 shots on goal.

Montgomery believed the Kraken had done some of the same things defensively as the Maple Leafs, which the Bruins hope will prepare them better for Saturday.

“Very similar to what Seattle did,” Montgomery said. “They were five together. They were above us. They protected the middle of the ice very well on their side. This game, coupled with last night’s game, are learning opportunities for us. face teams that play tight controls.”

But above all, the Bruins and Maple Leafs eagerly await the challenge and the opportunity. It’s a No. 1 vs. No. 2 scenario, with Toronto tied with the Carolina Hurricanes (26-9-7) for second in the NHL in points.

“It’s going to be really fun,” said the Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin said. “Those are the games you really like to play. It’s going to be tough. They rolled. … I think we’ll be very, very motivated for this game.”

The Bruins will be too. They entered practice at Warrior Arena on Friday with what Montgomery called “a feeling of emptiness in their stomach, and we didn’t get that.”

It’s something that he said could make a team angry, could annoy them just enough to get carried away as another big opponent walks into a building they’ve been dominating in. all season.

Which lines up for a big night on Saturday.

“We’ve kind of circled that date on our calendar, it’s going to be a big date,” the Maple Leafs forward said. Zach Aston Reese said. “It allows us to start the last part of the season that we have left. We get the win there, I think it will be huge for our confidence.”

NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika contributed to this report

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