Maple Leafs set to host Bru­ins; An­der­sen’s sta­tus up in the air

The Observer (Sarnia) - - SPORTS - JOSHUA CLIPPERTON NET­WORK

TORONTO — It didn’t take long for John Tavares to get a feel for the Toronto Maple Leafs’ sim­mer­ing ri­valry with the Bos­ton Bru­ins.

No stranger to heated games be­tween New York teams dur­ing his nine sea­sons with the Is­lan­ders, he was left fum­ing after the Leafs got thumped 6-3 in Bos­ton last month.

“It’s got to piss you off,” Tavares said after the penalty-filled loss at TD Gar­den on Dec. 8. “Def­i­nitely not a fun one.”

The vet­eran cen­tre and his team­mates will get a chance at re­demp­tion — and to po­ten­tially send a mes­sage — when the Bru­ins visit the Leafs for their fourth and fi­nal reg­u­lar-sea­son meet­ing Saturday.

“It’s al­ways a bat­tle against these guys,” Tavares said fol­low­ing prac­tice Fri­day. “I’ve only been a part of it for three games and you al­ready get that sense.”

Bos­ton and Toronto played a hard-fought se­ries in the first round of last spring ’s play­offs, one the Bru­ins took in seven games.

The teams split their first two meet­ings this sea­son — the Bru­ins won 5-1 at home on Nov. 10 be­fore the Leafs re­turned the favour 16 days later with a 4-2 vic­tory at Sco­tia­bank Arena — to set up a testy De­cem­ber af­fair that fea­tured a com­bined 98 min­utes in penal­ties.

Leafs for­ward Zach Hy­man was sus­pended two games for in­ter­fer­ence fol­low­ing a late hit on Bru­ins de­fence­man Char­lie McAvoy, while Bos­ton winger Chris Wag­ner took a run at Toronto blue-liner Mor­gan Rielly.

“Not any­thing we’re go­ing to think about,” Rielly said when asked if there would be any holdover from a night that fea­tured three of Toronto’s four fight­ing ma­jors this sea­son. “We’re just go­ing to go out and play.”

But cen­tre Nazem Kadri, who was sus­pended three games for board­ing in last year’s play­offs, said the speedy, skilled Leafs won’t back down from any rough stuff.

“We won’t be pushed around,” Kadri said. “We’ve got guys stand­ing up for each other and stand­ing up for them­selves.

“If there’s an op­por­tu­nity to fin­ish a clean hit, we’re go­ing to do so. We don’t shy away from that phys­i­cal pres­ence, but what’s most im­por­tant is the two points.”

And those points are in­deed cru­cial with the Bru­ins breath­ing down the Leafs’ neck in the stand­ings.

Cur­rently se­cond in the At­lantic Di­vi­sion, 12 points back of the Tampa Bay Light­ning, Toronto (28-13-2) sits four up on Bos­ton (25-15-4) with a game in hand.

The Buf­falo Sabres were two points back of the Bru­ins head­ing into Fri­day’s ac­tion, but even though it’s only Jan­uary, there’s a de­cent chance Toronto and Bos­ton could meet in the first round for a se­cond con­sec­u­tive spring.

The Leafs in­sist they aren’t think­ing about home-ice ad­van­tage in the play­offs at this point, but there’s no doubt it will start to creep into their psy­che as the se­cond half of the sched­ule pro­gresses, es­pe­cially after fall­ing 7-4 to the Bru­ins in Game 7 on the road in April.

“No­body wants to go into an op­pos­ing team’s build­ing in a Game 7,” Kadri said. “That’s some­thing that’s tough to do. (Home ice is) def­i­nitely go­ing to ben­e­fit us. That’s what we work all sea­son for.”

The Leafs won’t know un­til Saturday morn­ing if No. 1 goalie Fred­erik An­der­sen will be back from a groin in­jury that has kept him on the shelf since Dec. 28. It’s ex­pected Michael Hutchin­son will get the call for a fifth straight start if An­der­sen can’t go.

“(It’s) pro­gress­ing well,” An­der­sen said. “I’ll try and be pos­i­tive about it, keep tak­ing the right steps.”

For the Leafs to have suc­cess Saturday or in any fu­ture play­off se­ries with or with­out An­der­sen, they need to find an an­swer for Bos­ton’s po­tent top line of Pa­trice Berg­eron, Brad Marc­hand and David Pas­tr­nak.

Berg­eron, who missed more than a month of ac­tion ear­lier this sea­son with a rib in­jury, has 62 points in 65 ca­reer reg­u­lar-sea­son games against Toronto — the cen­tre’s most against any op­po­nent — while Marc­hand’s 37 points in 39 games against the Leafs is his best show­ing.

Pas­tr­nak has 18 points in 14 games against Toronto, se­cond to only the 19 he’s scored in 15 out­ings ver­sus Ot­tawa.

The trio also wreaked havoc in last sea­son’s se­ries with the Leafs, fin­ish­ing with a com­bined 30 points.

JACK BOLAND/POST­MEDIA

Toronto Maple Leafs goal­tender Fred­erik An­der­sen speaks to the me­dia on Fri­day in Toronto. An­der­sen’s sta­tus for Saturday’s game against the Bos­ton Bru­ins is still up in the air. The Leafs will de­cide in the morn­ing if An­der­sen will get the start.

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