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Ice Breakers: Bruins-Maple Leafs, Thursday March 31st

The Bruins (43-23-10) will round out the month of March this evening, hosting Phil Kessel and the Toronto Maple Leafs (35-32-10) at TD Garden.

Boston made quick work of the defending champion Blackhawks Tuesday night, shutting them out 3-0 led by yet another stellar performance from goalie Tim Thomas. It was Thomas’s ninth shutout of the season and second in his last three starts. The Vezina Trophy favorite has improved his league-leading GAA to 1.96 and save percentage to .940. As a team, the B’s have allowed just three goals total in their last five games. That stretch nearly coincides with a change head coach Claude Julien made to his defensive pairings… a change that has certainly paid off thus far. Before the last Toronto game back on March 19th, Julien lined up Zdeno Chara with Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg with Tomas Kaberle, and Andrew Ference with Adam McQuaid. After working out the kinks the first time out, giving up five goals to the Leafs, it’s been shutdown central ever since.

As for Toronto, the Leafs are still mathematically alive for a playoff spot in the East, but hopes are certainly waning as days go by. Toronto edged Buffalo in their last game Tuesday night, 4-3, but with the Sabres winning last night, tied with the Rangers for the final two playoff spots, the tall task of catching either team for one of those spots has become even taller for the Leafs. Entering play tonight, Toronto finds themselves seven points behind both Buffalo and New York, with just five games left on their schedule.

This Leafs team should be pretty familiar to B’s fans by now, but nonetheless, let’s throw some pre-game notes your way to get you going…

Comparing the Teams

Tonight marks the sixth and final meeting between these two historic Original Six division rivals. The Leafs have won the last two games over the B’s, and three of five overall.

Both teams have won four of their last five games. Boston comes into tonight with a 7-4-3 record in the month of March.

Boston’s Key Figures

In the race atop the Bruins’ stat sheet, David Krejci (12G, 48A) leads the way with a slim one-point advantage over Milan Lucic (30G, 29A). Patrice Bergeron (22G, 33A) sits in the third spot, five points off the team lead.

The Bruins have already clinched a playoff spot, but because of Montreal’s 6-2 loss last night, the B’s have a chance at clinching the Northeast Division crown with a win tonight. Winning the division would mean the B’s would earn one of the top three seeds in the Eastern Conference playoffs. Boston sits three points back of Washington for second in the conference, and six behind East-leading Philadelphia.

One ugly note from Tuesday night’s win over Chicago came via Shawn Thornton’s face. Thornton was cut by a skate when he fell to the ice behind the goal in the second period of Tuesday’s win, slicing his forehead open with a gash that required 40 stitches to seal up. Thornton, the team’s resident tough guy, was of course back on the ice for the team’s morning skate today, with all intentions of suiting up tonight against Toronto. Thornton hasn’t been declared out, though, so look for Michael Ryder to get back in the lineup in Thornton’s place.

Tuesday night also featured yet another historic accomplishment by veteran Mark Recchi. The 22-year veteran assisted on Johnny Boychuk’s goal, and that earned Recchi his 1,532nd career point, which helped him pass his former teammate, Hall of Fame defenseman Paul Coffey, for 12th on the all-time scoring list. As a side note, after Tuesday’s win, Recchi mentioned to the media that if the Bruins win the Stanley Cup this season, his plan is to retire. As a result, no hard feelings, but I really hope this is Mark Recchi’s last season in the NHL.

Toronto’s Playoff Race

On a related note, earlier this month the Maple Leafs called up defenseman Matt Lashoff to join the big squad. How is that related to Mark Recchi, you may ask? Well, Lashoff, a former first-rounder of the Bruins back in ’05, was in the 2009 trade deadline deal that brought Recchi to the Black and Gold. The young defenseman has appeared in 69 games for the AHL’s Toronto Marlies, racking up seven goals and 21 assists this season. Since being called up on March 16th, Lashoff has been on the ice for six of the team’s last seven games. He hasn’t registered a goal or an assist yet for the Leafs, but is +3.

Goaltending for Toronto recently has been handled by rookie standout James Reimer (18-8-4, 2.55GAA), who has won five of his last six starts. Veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere (11-11-4, 2.90GAA) has generally been relegated to backup status these days for the Leafs.

The points race for Toronto is a heated one with just a handful of games left on the schedule. Current leader Clarke MacArthur (21G, 38A) has one more point than former Bruin Phil Kessel (29G, 29A), who has one more point than center Mikhail Grabovski (29G, 28A).

P.S…

Lastly, the 4th annual “Cuts for a Cause” is just a week away! Shawn Thornton and several of his Bruin teammates, along with Toucher and Rich from 98.5 The Sports Hub, are hosting this charity event at Ned Devine’s in Faneuil Hall next Thursday night, April 7th. Fans are able to visit the radio station’s Web site to bid on the opportunity to shave their favorite player’s head, with the proceeds benefiting the Floating Hospital for Children at Tufts Medical Center.

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