The Maple Leafs have an opportunity to close the gap in the Atlantic Division standings when they host the Bruins on Hockey Night in Canada (7:00 p.m. EST, Sportsnet).
As the Leafs scraped together a bunch of extra-time wins/points over the last stretch, the Bruins went on their first three-game losing slide of the season, which they snapped against the 32nd-place San Jose on Thursday.
As a result, the Leafs now enter this matchup facing a six-point deficit in the divisional race but hold a game in hand. A regulation Leafs win tonight would reduce it to a four-point difference with a game in hand for Toronto, which would mean we have a real Atlantic Division title race on our hands after the first quarter of the season.
Only once last season did the record-setting Bruins lose four out of five (in late January-early February), and the one win during that dip came against Toronto. Boston ended up responding with a 10-game winning streak which officially put to bed any remaining intrigue about a divisional race to the finish.
This game is but one of 82, but it certainly feels a bit bigger given the four-point swing possibility and the opportunity to give Boston something to think about with a fourth loss in eight days.
Almost certainly, the Leafs will need their best 60-minute effort in some time to accomplish a regulation win, of which they have just five in 21 games. Despite collecting nine of the last 12 points (4-1-1), the Leafs have owned just 46.6% of the shot attempts and shots at five-on-five, where they’ve been out-scored 13-11.
Clearly, Boston is an elite five-on-five team, and with the Leafs’ defense behind their top pairing stitched together with string and bubble gum at the moment, they’re going to need their fully healthy forward group — particularly their star talent — to really drive the bus and bring their best 200-foot efforts tonight.
Winner of four of his last five starts (.921 save percentage), Joseph Woll will start for the fourth consecutive game in net, with Martin Jones serving as backup due to Ilya Samsonov’s illness. Ryan Reaves re-enters the lineup on the fourth line.
Game Day Quotes
Sheldon Keefe on whether there is “extra emotion” in this matchup after the incident in Boston earlier this season:
I don’t think you can get extra emotion going into a game like this. We recognize we are playing against a very good team that is going to demand everything from us — everything that we have. That is what we are preparing for.
Ryan Reaves on dealing with Brad Marchand’s antics:
He is not going to fight you. That’s for sure. You just have to play him hard. You can try to bait him into whatever, but you have to make sure you are doing it smartly. You can’t take penalties.
He is not a guy who is going to drop his gloves. He will try to bait you in and make you do something stupid. Their power play is dangerous. That is where he thrives. You have to be smart, and you have to play hard.
Reaves on the verbal jousting with Marchand:
There is always chirping back and forth. He likes telling me he makes a lot more than I do. It doesn’t really bother me. A lot of players make a lot more than I do. It is not really a good one.
It just happens in the heat of the moment usually.
Marchand on Reaves’ comments about Marchand pointing out their difference in salary:
I think I said that once a long time ago. Sounds like he is holding onto it.
He is one of those guys that brings physicality to their group. He has obviously made a great career out of it.
It seems like there is always a great rivalry with this team. Usually, that stems from playing each other in the playoffs a few times. Both teams have been very good for a while.
Always a fun game to play.
Marchand on the Leafs’ lack of response to the Liljegren incident:
There wasn’t a response because it wasn’t a bad play. It is one of those things that happens fast in a game. You get tied up and try to battle for positioning on a puck. Things happen.
Clearly, no one thought it was a big deal. They made it out as something. Unfortunately, when you allow that stuff to leak into the media outside of the room, it creates more drama than is necessary. That is kind of what happened in that situation.
Keefe on the keys to dealing with Marchand:
You have to play hard against him. You can’t get preoccupied with things that don’t matter and focus on the things that do.
He is such a high-quality player that he can hurt you in a lot of different ways. He helps drive the rest of their team. If you get overconsumed with whatever he has going on, all of a sudden, Pastrnak is running free and doing his thing.
We just have to remain focused on our game, most importantly. If our game is in order, I think we have a really good opportunity to compete against anybody in the league. We have done a good job against teams that are above us in the standings for the most part through the season. We are going to need more of that.
Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery on his team’s losing-slump-snapping 3-0 win over San Jose:
We gave up 17 goals in three games, and we didn’t look anything like ourselves. It was good to see us look like ourselves without the puck in all three zones.
Montgomery on Reaves’ presence in the lineup and the possible response to Marchand:
I don’t think it is any different than the Florida game where they were targeting Charlie [McAvoy]. We are going to stick together and play together out there.
Head-to-Head Stats: Maple Leafs vs. Bruins
Toronto Maple Leafs Projected Lines
#23 Matthew Knies – #34 Auston Matthews – #88 William Nylander
#59 Tyler Bertuzzi – #91 John Tavares – #16 Mitch Marner
#89 Nick Robertson – #11 Max Domi – #19 Calle Jarnkrok
#18 Noah Gregor – #64 David Kampf – #75 Ryan Reaves
#44 Morgan Rielly – #78 TJ Brodie
#85 William Lagesson – #22 Jake McCabe
#2 Simon Benoit – #25 Conor Timmins
Starter: #60 Joseph Woll
#31 Martin Jones
Scratched: Max Lajoie, Bobby McMann
Injured/Out: Mark Giordano, John Klingberg, Timothy Liljegren, Ilya Samsonov
Boston Bruins Projected Lines
#74 Jake DeBrusk – #18 Pavel Zacha – #88 David Pastrnak
#63 Brad Marchand – #51 Matthew Poitras – #43 Danton Heinen
#21 James van Riemsdyk – #13 Charlie Coyle – #11 Trent Frederic
#94 Jakub Lauko – #39 Morgan Geeke – #62 Oskar Steen
#27 Hampus Lindholm – #73 Charlie McAvoy
#48 Matt Grzelcyk – #25 Brandon Carlo
#28 Derek Forbort – #12 Kevin Shattenkirk
Starter: #35 Linus Ullmark
#1 Jeremy Swayman
Scratched: John Beecher
Injured: Milan Lucic