By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Toronto Maple Leafs are three points behind the Bruins for third place in the Atlantic Division with one game in hand heading into a Monday showdown between the two rivals.
A team built around high-skill forwards who are younger than the U.S. drinking age and a veteran goaltender getting his feet wet in his first season in one of the toughest media environments in the League, the Maple Leafs have had their share of ups and downs this season — but not against the Bruins.
In games against Boston, Toronto has looked like world beaters. The Maple Leafs have won all three meetings by a combined score of 14-7, including a 6-5 win in Claude Julien’s last game behind the Bruins bench. Now we’ll get to see if the Bruce Cassidy-coached Bruins, who are 12-4-0 since the coaching change, can figure out how to slow down Toronto in one of the most important games of the season.
“I think we need to play our game. We’ve been a little lax in some of those games and they’re a team with tons of firepower,” forward David Backes said after practice at Warrior Ice Arena on Sunday. “They’ve got a lot of young kids with tons of skill. They’ve got some older guys that have high-end skill. You make mistakes against them, they make you pay. Not that we’re going to be mistake-free but we’ve got to limit those and we’ve got to bail each other out when we have our mistakes. And be really good with the puck.
“When we’ve fed their offense, they’ve put up some crooked numbers against us. But when we play our game, some of the best teams in the league have struggled to score against and we’ve got to show that we can put that game out there against Toronto and have those scales weighted in our favor.”
Actually the Bruins haven’t fared particularly well against some of the League’s highest-scoring teams. They’re 1-1-1 against Pittsburgh, which ranks No. 1 in goals per game, but have allowed 12 goals in those three games. The New York Rangers have 12 goals in three games against the Bruins and Washington has outscored the Bruins 9-6 in two games. The Bruins have won two out of three from Columbus but allowed nine goals in those three games.
To be fair, all but one of the games against the aforementioned teams came during the Julien reign. Under Cassidy the Bruins still lost to the Rangers, but it was respectable 2-1 defeat. Nonetheless, the Bruins’ track record against Toronto, which ranks sixth in goals scored per game, and other high-powered offenses, combined with how the Bruins lost their last game raise a red flag about whether the Bruins are ready to get two points against Toronto on Monday.
In losing 7-4 at Edmonton on Thursday, the Bruins set a Cassidy-era high for goals against. The Bruins believe their defense-less performance against the Oilers was an anomaly that will be forgotten by success against the Maple Leafs and during the rest of the week, which features key matchups against Ottawa, Tampa Bay and the New York Islanders.
“It’s going to happen that we always try obviously to win games but at times teams are going to make good plays and you’ve got to tip your hat. And at times we need to be better,” defenseman Zdeno Chara said. “Some goals they [the Oilers] scored, they earned them and some goals we made some mistakes, just a human error. But again we have to be looking ahead. What happened last game, it’s behind us and now we have important games ahead of us and we have to focus on them and have kind of a fresh attitude going into Toronto.”
The Bruins, including Cassidy, talked a lot Sunday about taking away time and space from Mitch Marner and Auston Matthews. Cassidy emphasized the Bruins’ need to be more aware of how quickly William Nylander, who had a hat trick the last time these two teams met, can get off his shot. The game plan has been written, the adjustments have been made. Under Cassidy the Bruins have seemingly had an answer for every problem that’s been thrown their way and they haven’t lost consecutive games since the interim coach’s ascension.
We’ll find out if the Cassidy magic can last Monday night.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @TheBruinsBlog