For the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was an opportunity lost. For the Boston Bruins, it was the message they’re not dead yet. Far from, in fact.
An undermanned Bruins squad, backstopped by Leaf killer Tim Thomas, escaped from the Air Canada Centre Tuesday night with a 3-0 victory over the misfiring Maple Leafs.
Stanislav Chistov, P.J. Axelsson and Jason York scored for Boston, which won its third in a row and seventh in nine games.
And don’t look now but the Bruins have 62 points – just four fewer than the Maple Leafs – with a game in hand.
It was a troubling blown opportunity for the Leafs. They missed on a chance to solidify their playoff hopes, and continued their home woes. The Leafs are now 12-13-5 at home, a record they know they must improve upon if they are to have any hope of making the playoffs.
Andrew Raycroft played in his 21st straight game, but was yanked after giving up three goals over two periods on 12 shots. J.S. Aubin got a nice hand from the 19,578 in attendance as he started third period.
It was Aubin’s first action since Jan. 20 when he relieved Raycroft in an 8-2 loss in Pittsburgh. In that game, the last before the All-Star Break, Aubin gave up three goals in nine shots in the third period.
It wasn’t as if the three-goal deficit was necessarily Raycroft’s fault. The Leafs played a solid 5-on-5 game, but the power play failed to connect despite five chances, including a 5-on 3. The power play was booed in the third period.
The Leafs even had a two-man breakaway while shorthanded in the third, but Bates Battaglia shot it right at the glove of a sprawled Thomas. The Leafs outshot the Bruins 43-22.
The work for Aubin could be important given the Leafs play back-to-back games twice in the next 14 days.
It was the final game of the regular season between the two Original 6 rivals. The Bruins won 5 of the 8, including 3 of 4 in Toronto.
The Bruins managed to pull off the win without two of their best players: Glen Murray and Patrice Bergeron were both scratched with lower body injuries. Murray has 27 goals and 17 assists, Bergeron 18 goals and 36 assists.
So it may be that the Leafs, on a remarkable 7-1-2 run since the all-star break, are guilty of taking the Bruins for granted. They had manhandled the Bruins twice, registering 10-2 and 5-1 wins. But those games were in Boston. The Bruins play a different game here, especially Thomas.
The first period had all the makings of the Tim Thomas Show II as the Bruins ended the first period up 1-0 despite the Leafs holding a 12-7 shots advantage.
In their last appearance at the Air Canada Centre, on Nov. 28, Thomas stonewalled Toronto shooters with a seemingly improbable 45-save performance in a 4-1 Boston win. That win came right after a 24-save save performance in a 3-1 win that started a Leaf seven-game losing streak.
Thomas seems to save his best for the Air Canada Centre.
The Leafs failed to score on a 5-on-3 early in the first, with the best opportunity being a hit post.
Chistov then scored at 7:13, a second effort at the puck when Raycroft failed to smother it with his glove. It was Chistov’s fourth goal of the year.
It was much the same story in the second period, with the Leafs holding a 14-6 advantage but Boston scored twice.
The Leafs’ power play struggles got even worse when Axelsson scored shorthanded, a wrist shot over Raycroft’s glove, at 12:17 It was his 10th of the year.
And York got his first goal of the season on a slapshot at 17:41.
Brendan Bell again played forward, as the Leafs were without Boyd Devereaux who was out with a sore wrist/forearm.
The Leafs still have their fate in their own hands, taking on the Islanders Wednesday night in Long Island, the first game of a three-game road trip that takes them to Philadelphia and Montreal.