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Ready for 'Contender' Leafs

by Eric Russo / Boston Bruins

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BOSTON, MA – The battle for the top spot in the Northeast Division is a tough one – just four points separate the top four teams. Montreal leads with 32 points and Ottawa is fourth with 28. And tonight, when the Bruins take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden, it will be a duel between the second and third place teams in the division.

The B’s sit right behind Montreal with 31 points, while the Leafs, who have won seven of their last 10, are one point back of Boston.

Bruins bench boss Coach Julien knows that his team needs to rebound following two losses, while the Maple Leafs team they're facing comes in having won three straight, including a 5-4 win over the Senators in Toronto Wednesday night.

“I don’t even have to go as far as that,” said Julien, when asked what he learned from the Bruins’ 1-0 win in Toronto on February 2. “I just have to look at last night’s game. They’ve done a great job with that team – the coaching staff. You’ve got to give credit to a lot of people there because they are playing really well defensively; they’ve really tightened up their game.

“Offensively, they’re still a skilled team, but they’re also doing the grunt work. They come at you hard. I’m one of those guys that believes they’re a legit contender, no doubt about it. They play like one. Having said that, I’ve already told our guys, ‘If you’re not ready for a tough game tonight, then you’re making a big mistake.’”

Playing a streaking Toronto team will be a good test for the Bruins, after having lost two straight games to Montreal and Washington, in which they struggled during the third periods of both contests, after leading after two periods in both.

“Yeah, they are,” Julien said, on whether the mistakes his team has been making are correctable. “Our defensive game has not been the greatest. They’re all about little details. I often tell our players, little details are what make a difference between a win and a loss.”

The B’s have an opportunity to refine those details tonight, and possibly put some distance between themselves and Toronto in the division. But, they will have to be weary of a team coming into the Garden playing good hockey.

“I think, obviously, they’re playing extremely well on their own, and they’re not giving up too many great scoring chances,” Chris Kelly said after today’s morning skate. “They gave up four last night, but I think they were in control for most of the night, and they work extremely hard. All four lines play the game the right way, and they’re getting good goals.”

The Maple Leafs did not win a game against the Bruins last season, but Brad Marchand does not believe that will have any effect on what happens tonight.

“That was last year, wasn’t it?,” Marchand responded, referring specifically to the last meeting between these two teams at TD Garden, in which the Bruins came away with an 8-0 victory last March 19. “So, I mean, it’s a long time ago, different team, different coach, different GM. And by no means are they going to be holding a grudge from one game last year when we played so many against each other, I think they’re more concerned about the two points.

“This year, with the shortened season, you need every point and I think they’re definitely more concerned with that than coming here and bullying us.”

One would have to go back to March of 2011 to find the last time Toronto came away victorious in Boston, but according to Marchand, that won’t give the Black & Gold any sort of mental edge.

“I don’t think so, just for the fact that they’re playing really well right now and, again, it’s a different team and different guys and they seem to have a different mentality,” explained Marchand, who leads the Bruins with 12 goals on the season. “They’re playing very well systematically and working hard. They have a lot of confidence, and going into a building like ours, with the offense they have, they’ve got to be happy.

“It’s going to be a very, very tough game tonight.”

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