Two Northeast divisional rivals face off in Boston tonight.  The Maple Leafs are battling to just stay alive in the playoff hunt while Boston is stalking Washington for a number 2 seed.  

Toronto Maple Leafs

Boston Bruins

The Toronto Maple Leafs (35-32-10) are surging but it may be a case of too little too late.  With just five games remaining in the regular season, they trail the Sabres and the Rangers for the coveted eighth playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  Perhaps no member of the Leafs has had more influence on their late season push than 23 year old rookie goaltender, James Reimer.  The kid from Winnipeg didn’t even get a start until the season was almost half over but lately he’s been the Toronto mainstay between the pipes. 

Reimer has 18 wins in only 30 starts this year and sports a nifty .922 save percentage as well as a respectable 2.55 GAA on a team not known for their defensive prowess.  Reimer will need his mates to help him out on the offensive side of the ledger if they are to have any chance of continuing their roll.  The Leafs have won 4 of their last 5 matchups and Reimer has been in the net for every game.

Boston Bruins

As long as we’re talking goaltending, we cannot overlook the otherworldly play of the Boston Bruins (43-23-10) netminder, Tim Thomas.  Outside of a mild 3 game funk in the beginning of March the 36 year old veteran has been an absolute stone wall this season for the Bruins.  Coach Claude Julien has resisted the temptation to ride him exclusively and that decision has paid dividends as Thomas has looked much sharper and more focused than he had even a month ago.  Backup Tuukka Rask has been solid when getting the starting assignment and the Bruins blueliners are more than capable with All-Stars Zdeno Chara and former Leaf Tomas Kaberle patrolling the defensive zone. 

Battle of the Goalies

Both teams are playing well, winning 4 of their last 5, and while Toronto needs this game far greater than Boston, the Bruins would like to go into the playoffs with a bang and not a whimper.  Boston has downed NHL powerhouses Philadelphia and Chicago (last year’s NHL Stanley Cup finalists) in consecutive games and Tim Thomas was immense in both those starts. 

Toronto hosted and defeated the Buffalo Sabres 4-3 on Tuesday night, a team they would like to oust from their playoff perch.  It should also be noted that Sabres started their most recent run of wins by defeating the Bruins 5-2 back on March 19th.

This is the last game between the divisional rivals and Toronto has actually bested the Bruins 3 games to 2 this season (with one of those Toronto wins in overtime resulting in a point for the B’s).  Though Thomas has been a stalwart in net this season, he has not had much success against the Maple Leafs, dropping his last two games against them and allowing 4 goals in each of those starts. 

Meanwhile, Toronto goalie James Reimer has been between the pipes in the last two games against Boston, recording victories in both.  While we know Reimer will be starting for Toronto, Thomas may get a breather tonight due to his recent workload and due to the fact he has not had great success against the Leafs. 

Either way, I don’t see the Bruins taking their northern neighbors lightly this evening.  Julien needs his team to be amped up and gunning for a 2nd seed in the playoffs.  Look for the Bruins to avenge their past two defeats to a team that is neither as talented nor as deep as the Boston.  They may be big favorites on the NHL odds boards at -200 but there is a good reason why. 

My Pick: Play Boston.