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The Boston Bruins have four wins in their last five games, one of the hottest goalies in the NHL and a reason for optimism with a number of young players performing well.
One thing they don't have this season is a home win over the Toronto Maple Leafs.
As the only team to beat the Bruins by more than a goal this season, the Leafs will make their second visit to Boston's TD Banknorth Garden on Thursday, looking to solve their defensive woes and avoid a third straight loss.
Boston (6-3-3) led Toronto 2-0 after one period of the Northeast Division rivals' meeting on Oct. 23, but the Leafs came roaring back for a 4-2 win, with Niklas Hagman's empty-netter with three seconds handing the Bruins their only multi-goal defeat in 2008-09.
"I guess we kind of took them lightly, like we were going to run them out of the building," Bruins forward Milan Lucic said. "But they kept working and working and working."
The loss may have served as somewhat of a wake-up call for Boston, which responded with a three-game winning streak.
The run ended with a 3-2 loss at Calgary, but the Bruins bounced back to beat Dallas 5-1 Saturday night at home, surviving a game in which the teams totaled 146 penalty minutes thanks to a series of skirmishes.
"We've got great team chemistry in there and the guys are all, as you saw tonight, they all pull for each other and they'll go to battle for each other," Bruins coach Claude Julien told his team's official Web site. "That's the important part and that's a big part of having a highly successful hockey club."
Against Dallas, Marco Sturm scored twice for Boston while goalie Tim Thomas stayed red hot, stopping 35 shots in his fourth consecutive start. Thomas, who ranks second in the NHL with a 1.83 goals-against average, has stopped 128 of 132 shots (97.0 percent) in his last four games.
The Bruins have also gotten plenty of help from several young forwards this season, as 21-year-old Phil Kessel leads the team with seven goals and Lucic, 20, has eight points in 12 games. Patrice Bergeron has also scored in consecutive games after the 23-year-old missed nearly all of last season with a severe concussion.
Marc Savard leads Boston with 15 points, but he and his fellow forwards will try to take better advantage of Toronto's porous defense this time around.
The Leafs (5-4-4) have allowed five or more goals three times in their last four games, including 11 in their last two contests - a pair of losses to Carolina. They lost 5-4 at home in overtime on Tuesday, as Vesa Toskala made just 19 saves, giving up four goals in the first period.
Toronto came back to force overtime and earn a point, but first-year coach Ron Wilson was still disappointed in his team, which has matched Atlanta for the most goals allowed (46) in the East.
"We've changed our focus a little bit - we thought we had (defense) in the can and have gone more into the attack mode, more shots and focused on offense," Wilson said. "We just have to hammer (defense) home."
On the bright side for the Leafs, their offense has been clicking, with 18 goals in the last four games. Mikhail Grabovski has been the spark of late, scoring four goals in the last two contests to double his career total.
That could provide a tough test for Thomas, who took the loss earlier this season against Toronto but is still 9-4-2 with a 2.96 GAA in 16 career starts against the Leafs.
By the Associated Press
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