This is a huge game for the Bruins and Leafs...for obvious reasons.
Getting beyond Phil Kessel's return to Boston for the first time since he was traded for a king's ransom of draft picks in September, this has the makings of an intense, physical and high scoring affair that could energize the Bruins' fanbase after a putrid showing last night on the road.
I do favor the B's in this one simply because they could not have played any worse in Montreal, an embarrassing 5-1 defeat that, if you can dare believe it, looks better on paper than the game that was actually played.
Boston had a pair of 5-on-3 power play situations for nearly a full two minutes each, and failed to score. Their only goal came in the third period, when Vladimir Sobotka tipped a Matt Hunwick shot past Carey Price to break the shutout bid. But, let's not sugarcoat this: the Bruins laid an egg in what should have been a performance worthy of Montreal's 100th anniversary game.
The defense was pathetic, and uninspired, with none of the team's top players at the position resembling anything remotely close to who they are and what they are capable of. Tim Thomas, who didn't get any help on the goals he allowed, still must play better than he did. Camalleri's second tally was an absolute joke (starting with Hunwick's whiff behind the goal line, but exacerbated when Thomas swiped at the puck and missed, allowing the Hab player to swoop in and deposit into the far side), and if you're one who think Thomas should be defended after his performance last night, then I think you might want to look up the term "enabler" in the dictionary. I've always been a big supporter of his, and I'm not about to hang the loss all on Thomas, but he simply has to play better than he did last night...end of story (and he'd be the first to tell you that himself). As for the forwards, their passes were off all night and nobody seemed willing to pay the price by taking the puck hard to the net or trying to ignite any kind of spark. All told, it was the kind of game that really stirs up the negative emotions, and the team has got to learn from it.
What's done is done, and that's why I believe that this was the kind of wakeup call that will have the Bruins flying against the Leafs. Toronto has won a pair of games and have done it with former Boston backup Joey MacDonald in net (actually, Jonas Gustavsson got the win over Montreal because he and MacDonald split the duties and Monster was in net for TO's first score in a shutout win). Whether it is MacDonald or Vesa Toskala, who is just back from a brief stint on IR, I think the Leafs will have their hands full against a Boston team that was embarrassed last night, and will be eager to show their fans that they are made of better stuff than they showed.
If the B's show up and put on another listless performance like they did in Montreal, the fans will let them know about it. What's worse- it will be a telling sign that this Bruins team is not what it needs to be, and might require a lot more work before it can really contend. Even the best NHL clubs will have stinkers like Boston did last night...our feelings are magnified because of who it happened against. But at the same time, it is how the Bruins respond tonight in another huge divisional game.
If the Leafs win, they move past Anaheim in the standings for third-worst team in the NHL, but their confidence will get a huge boost, which doesn't bode well for those wanting them to tank. Kessel has 11 goals in 15 games...3 more than Boston's two top goal-getters who have played the whole season. He's going to be zooming around the ice all night, so perhaps it was good for the Bruins to have such a horror show of a game, because they're going to be up for it. I think the Boston players are going to treat Kessel like a bad puppy, so he'd better pack his motrin, because the hitting's going to pick up.
What are we going to be saying at approximately 10 p.m. tonight? Big test of character tonight...time for Boston's leaders to make a statement.