Curiosity kills the cat, they say. But a healthy amount of curiosity isn’t a bad thing necessarily.
After a long four-month stretch between games, the red-hot Bruins will resume their rivalry with the Toronto Maple Leafs at TD Garden Tuesday night.
The core players remain from their first matchup, but the Bruins and Leafs brought in marquee defensive upgrades at the trade deadline. Hampus Lindholm has seamlessly fit into a top pairing role with Charlie McAvoy as Toronto native and former Flames and Kraken blue-liner Mark Giordano provided the Leafs with some needed versatility on the back-end.
But the Bruins and Leafs have trended in opposite directions since their first meeting on Nov. 6. Bruce Cassidy watched his hockey club storm up the Eastern Conference standings after breaking up Boston’s potent top-line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak before returning from their COVID-19 break on Jan. 1.
Toronto’s suspect defense and goaltending sent the Leafs into a bit of a spiral. Their once multi-point cushion over the Bruins has trimmed down to a single point in the Atlantic Division playoff race.
“Since January we’ve been a different team, B’s fourth-line center Tomas Nosek said. “I think it’s much more fun.”
The Bruins and Leafs have hardly developed familiarity with one another following their 2019 first-round matchup. They had met once since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic 24 months ago. So who can blame Cassidy and crew for having a little curiosity about Auston Matthews and the Leafs heading into Tuesday’s showdown?
“I think we’re all a little bit curious… Kind of when we ran into Tampa earlier in the year and then we saw them last week and got to get familiar with them again. Toronto is the same thing,” Cassidy said following Monday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “It will be good — two passionate fanbases. There have obviously been some good hockey games. Obviously, the playoff series have been tilted in our favor, but the regular season has gone back and forth.
“Again, I think our guys will be excited to play because it was developing into a rivalry that hopefully gets up and running again now that we’re back in the same division. So, we should be good to go. It’ll be a good test.”
The Bruins have found various means to victory over the last few months. Certainly, they haven’t deviated from their philosophy of building a game plan from the net out.
Yet they haven’t needed to lean on one particular player or scoring line to produce timely goals. Nor have they needed one setup within their defensive system to close out victories.
Cassidy witnessed an uptick from the middle of the lineup in spurts where they didn’t have Marchand or Bergeron in the lineup. The six blue-liners provided a healthy output in the transition game. Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark have stabilized Boston’s short and long-term goaltending plans following Tuukka Rask’s retirement.
They’ve built a quality winning formula with a stellar 14-2-1 mark in their last 17 games. They have the second-best record in the NHL since Jan. 1. The Bruins would like to continue that trend Tuesday in their first home matchup with the Maple Leafs since Oct. 2019.
“I think we’ve found a lot of different avenues to the two points every night without relying on one thing,” Cassidy said.
The Bruins and Leafs aren’t quite at peak playoff performance yet. But barring a catastrophic late-season collapse, they won’t have to worry about the eight other teams beneath the final wild-card spot
Each pressing point matters in the playoff picture. The Bruins, Leafs and Lightning are within one point of each other through their first 65 games. One team will end the night in a top-three spot in the Atlantic and perhaps could find themselves in second place with a Tampa loss to Carolina.
The Bruins-Leafs rivalry will add one more chapter in their 82nd game(s) of the season on Apr. 30. Indeed, it’s gut-check time.
“These games are much more fun, and they prepare you for the playoffs,” Nosek said. “It’s getting close to the playoffs, and every point counts. So, hopefully, we show them who’s boss.”
Tim Rosenthal serves as the Managing Editor of Bruins Daily. He started contributing videos to the site in 2010 before fully coming on board during the Bruins' Stanley Cup run in 2011. His bylines over the last decade have been featured on Boston.com, FoxSports.com, College Hockey News, Patch and Inside Hockey. You can follow Tim on Twitter @_TimRosenthal.
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