A top duel between the Bruins and the Maple Leafs on Saturday

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

Another such loss came on Nov. 5 – 2-1 to the Toronto Maple Leafs in the only game the Atlantic Division rivals played.

READ ALSO : Trophy race: Ullmark is alone in his world | Trophy race: Montgomery, almost unanimous choice for the Jack-Adams | Matthews, an uncertain case for Saturday’s game

The Maple Leafs will have another opportunity to take on the best team in the Atlantic – and the NHL – on Saturday at TD Garden (7 p.m. ET; CBC, SNO, SNW, NHLN, NESN, SN NOW).

Still, as Maple Leafs coach Sheldon Keefe said Thursday, “there’s not really a race going on right now. »

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 is maintaining a historic pace.

“Their pace would allow them to post the highest point percentage in NHL history,” Keefe said. But we would like to force them to keep this rhythm, otherwise we will be in their rear view mirror. »

That means Toronto must make the most of every opportunity.

“They form the cream of the crop in the League”, launched the defender Mark Giordano. “We played them early in the season. It had been a good match. They’re fast, and the game was moving fast on both sides, but Saturday will be exciting to get into this game. We want to see where they are and where we are right now, so it will be a good test.

“If we want to give ourselves a chance to catch them, we will have to leave everything on the ice in the coming weeks. »

And this is possibly the best time for the Maple Leafs to face the Bruins. There was the 2023 NHL Winter Classic on Jan. 2, a 2-1 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins at Fenway Park, then a week-long trip to the American West, where the Bruins defeated the Kings Los Angeles, San Jose Sharks and Anaheim Ducks by a combined score of 16-5.

The loss to the Kraken will be only two days old, a setback that coach Jim Montgomery attributed to “mental fatigue”.

That said, the Bruins have never lost back-to-back games this season.

“It’s bigger than a normal regular season game,” Montgomery admitted. We have to take care of our game, and tomorrow’s game will be a good opportunity to do that against one of the good teams. […] I would say Toronto, Carolina and we have been the best on a consistent basis this year. So yes, it will be a good test for us. »

The potential absence of Auston Matthews, however, complicates things for the Maple Leafs. The forward has 47 points (20 goals, 27 assists) in 41 games this season and has missed the last two games with an undisclosed injury. To make matters worse, Matthews was sick on Thursday, Keefe said.

Matthews had scored both goals in the duel between the two teams in November, but the game was mostly marked by the Maple Leafs’ defensive prowess. They had limited the Bruins to 21 shots, their lowest total of the season.

Montgomery thinks the Kraken replicated some of the strategies employed by the Maple Leafs, and the Bruins are hoping they’ll be better prepared on Saturday.

“Very similar to what Seattle did,” Montgomery said. They were in units of five. They were constantly in our face and they protected the middle of their territory well. This match and the one last night are learning opportunities for us. How to generate more offensive against very airtight teams defensively? »

But most importantly, the Bruins and Maple Leafs are eager to take on this challenge. It’s a top game, as Toronto is tied with the Carolina Hurricanes (26-9-7) for second in the NHL in points.

“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said the Maple Leafs defenseman Rasmus Sandin. “These are the games you have the most fun playing. It will be difficult. They are on a roll. […] I think we’re going to be fired up for this game. »

The Bruins will be too. They showed up for practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Friday having not taken the loss for granted, Montgomery said.

It’s a loss that may have whipped the team enough, as another opponent will show up in the building where they’ve been so dominant this season.

It promises to be a great game.

“This date is circled on our calendar, because we know it will be an important matchup,” admitted the Maple Leafs forward. Zach Aston-Reese. “It will give us motivation for the last part of the season. If we win, I think it will be huge for our confidence. »

*With input from NHL.com columnist Nick Cotsonika.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.