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Maple Leafs focus on points, not punishment, when they take on the Bruins

Maple Leafs focus on points, not punishment, when they take on the Bruins
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The way things ended the last time the Maple Leafs played the Boston Bruins, and given that home-ice advantage in the playoffs might mean something, suggests there might be more than just a little edge to Saturday’s meeting.

“We’re obviously competing in the standings,” said Leafs forward Zach Hyman. “Last year we played in the playoffs … we have a history.”

The Leafs’ Nazem Kadri tussles with Boston’s Brandon Carlo during the Bruins’ 6-3 win on Dec. 8 at TD Garden. The Leafs close out their season series vs. Boston on Saturday at Scotiabank Arena.  (Maddie Meyer / GETTY IMAGES)

For those who have forgotten, Hyman was suspended two games for a late hit on Charlie McAvoy in the Bruins’ 6-3 victory on Dec. 8. Hyman’s hit prompted Boston’s Chris Wagner to hunt down Leafs defenceman Morgan Rielly, which prompted Ron Hainsey to drop the gloves. That game sparked debate about whether the Leafs were a physical enough team.

Boston’s win was its second in three meetings this season against a team they own in the playoffs. The two clubs appear destined the meet again in the first round.

“These are points we want to get here,” said Rielly, keeping a business-like approach to his answers about the Bruins because he does not expect an emotional spillover. “That was a long time ago, we’ve both moved on. This is an important game in the standings. That’s our focus.”

Since that December game, the Bruins are 10-5-0; the Leafs are 8-5-1.

Leafs coach Mike Babcock sang the Bruins’ praises and doesn’t mind if the game has an edge to it, because it all amounts to a learning experience for his players.

“They’re a team that’s played us real well, we think we can play them better. The standings, they’re right there with us,” said Babcock. “What I really like about them is not only are they skilled, they put their work ethic in front of their skill. They play right, they come at you with grit, speed, skill and determination. They’re a great example for our guys.

“The bottom line is you have to go out there and play. That’s the most important thing — how hard you compete on the puck. The rest usually looks after itself.”

As a rival, the Bruins don’t quite have the historic panache of the Montreal Canadiens, or even the Detroit Red Wings. And Boston doesn’t have the geographic proximity of the Buffalo Sabres or Ottawa Senators.

In the here and now, however, the Bruins are the Leafs’ biggest rival from a fan perspective, even if the players might not see it that way.

“There’s been a time we didn’t have much luck in Buffalo or Montreal,” said Rielly. “It’s a good league, a good division. Our record against Tampa could use some work.

“But I don’t think we think about past. They’re playing really well right now. They’re a good team. And we’ll have our hands full. But this team has confidence playing any team in the league.”

The Leafs may get No. 1 goaltender Frederik Andersen back for the game. Earlier in the week, Andersen had targeted a Saturday return from his groin injury. Babcock tempered those hopes, suggesting Monday against Colorado was more likely.

But Babcock relented Friday after practice, saying he expected a decision from the team’s medical staff by 11 a.m. Saturday.

“We’ll figure it out and go from there,” said Babcock. “It will be based on what information I get. If I go to a player everyday and ask him how he’s doing, I’m just putting the heat on him. I’m not doing that. When they’re ready, they usually come and tell you. When someone tells you, they get a get-out-of-jail-free card and get going.”

Andersen said he was progressing well.

“I’m trying to be positive about it,” said Andersen. “We’ll see. We have to get back to a point where it (the groin) is comfortable and we’re not making it worse.”

McAvoy was playing his first game back in that December meeting with Toronto in Boston, recovering from a concussion. He’s been out again since Dec. 23, suffering a foot infection, but is expected back Saturday.
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