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Leafs return to reality, face Bruins

by Matthew Mankiewich
MAPLE LEAFS (19-32-11) at BRUINS (27-23-11)

Last 10 -- Toronto 2-7-1, Boston 4-3-3.

Season series -- Three games played so far, all in December, all going to the home team. The Bruins steamrolled the Leafs in the first two by 7-2 and 5-2 scores, then Toronto's Jonas Gustavsson posted his first NHL shutout on Dec. 19 at the Air Canada Centre.

Big story -- Both teams have one game in since returning from the Olympic break and both were forgettable. But something else even more important took place since Tuesday, and that's Wednesday's trade deadline. Leafs GM Brian Burke and his Bruins counterpart, Peter Chiarelli, were particularly active. Burke, naturally, had the future in mind while Chiarelli geared toward survival and advancement in the Eastern Conference playoff race.

Team scope:

Maple Leafs -- "Being a seller (stinks)," Burke told the Leafs' Web site. "I’d much rather be accumulating assets and gearing up for the playoffs."

Instead, 19-goal scorer Alexei Ponikarovsky was sent to Pittsburgh on Tuesday for 21-year-old prospect winger Luca Caputi and defenseman Martin Skoula, who was then traded to the Devils for a fifth-round pick. Top scorer Tomas Kaberle remains in Toronto, but only after attempts to trade him to teams of his choice failed. Now the emphasis changes to signing him long-term.

Meanwhile, coach Ron Wilson goes from the intensity of the Olympic gold-medal game back to a 19-win team, watching his listless Leafs drop their first game back 5-1 to the Hurricanes.

"It was like the old Aqua Velva commercial - the slap across the face and like, 'back to reality,'" Wilson said.

Bruins -- To many hockey fans, if your team can't score, the first thing you do is try and get some scorers. To a professional, it's not quite as cut-and-dry.

Chiarelli took the first logical step by freeing up cap space, dealing Derek Morris and his $3.3 million salary. And rounding out the defense without breaking the bank doesn't hurt, particularly when you can get German Olympian Dennis Seidenberg, acquired from the Panthers along with Matt Bartkowski for forwards Byron Bitz and Craig Weller, plus a second-round draft pick obtained from the Lightning at last year's deadline. The 28-year-old is seen as the perfect partner for Zdeno Chara on the blue line.

But the final part of the plan -- getting scoring help -- eluded the Bruins, who had a shopping list that included Wojtek Wolski in Colorado, but the prices were deemed too high. Wolski joined Morris in Phoenix, while Boston stood pat up front.

"I might as well get this right out there because I know that a lot of the questions will be 'Why didn't we get scoring?' And those are very good and valid questions," Chiarelli told "And I guess what you have to look at least what we looked at was, firstly, that we wanted to change the composition of our defense. I can say that was an equal priority to scoring, getting some more scoring. And I put it as an equal priority because I feel that if we change the composition that will in itself allow us to improve from the back end out and it should result in better offensive production."

Who's hot -- In the three head-to-head games so far, the Bruins have six players with three points each, five more with two, including just-traded Morris and Bitz. Chara has four points in his last five NHL games, while Marc Savard has five points in his last five, but hasn't scored a goal since Dec. 23 (18 games). He did, however, score a hat trick in the B's first meeting with the Leafs this year.

Injury report -- Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron tweaked a sore groin in the Olympic gold medal game and did not play Tuesday against Montreal. The injury is considered minor and day-to-day. Leafs forward Mikhail Grabovski (wrist) sat out the Olympics, where he would have played for Belarus, but is out of his brace and is expected back soon.

Stat pack -- Seidenberg leads the NHL with 179 blocked shots. While neither team's power play will light up the night, the starkest contrast is in the penalty kill. Boston is best in the NHL at 86.2 percent, while Toronto is worst at 71.8 percent, nearly four percentage points below the second-from-last Islanders.

Puck drop -- "They used to say join the Navy and see the world. Well, if you want to play in the National Hockey League and you’re a college free agent, you should see an opportunity here." -- Leafs GM Brian Burke on his focus on free agents from American college programs
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