Bruins won't take Leafs lightly

ROB LONGLEY, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 8:48 AM ET

WILMINGTON, Ma. -- It would be reasonable to expect the Big Bad Bruins to be an ornery bunch tonight. And not just as a lingering hangover from the brawl-filled festivities in a game against the Dallas Stars this past weekend.

The Bruins were one of the first to feel the sting of the Maple Leafs comeback ways when the two teams met at the TD Banknorth Center two weeks ago. After storming out to an early 2-0 lead, the hosts got a little too comfortable with the visitors, who were taking full advantage of their advance billing as an Eastern Conference doormat.

The resulting 4-2 loss had coach Claude Julien fuming. And with that cat out of the bag, the Bruins coach said yesterday that the Leafs shouldn't expect to catch too many more opponents treating them as lightweights.

"It hasn't taken long for teams to take notice and realize the Leafs are for real," Julien said after an upbeat workout at the team's suburban practice facility. "It's a team that's got a lot of confidence right now. Their work ethic is creating situations where they are in every game."

WATERSHED GAME

The Bruins learned that the hard way in their previous meeting, a contest that proved to be an early-season watershed for both teams. After falling into that early hole, the Leafs bounced back with a now familiar rally in the final two periods to steal away the win.

For Toronto, it was the beginning of a stretch in which they won four of five, including more dramatic comeback victories against the New York Rangers and New Jersey Devils plus Tuesday's climb out of a three-goal hole in an eventual overtime loss against Carolina.

For the Bruins, Julien was able to use the loss as a lesson/motivational tool. Since then, Boston has gone 4-1, including a successful run through Western Canada that has them looking to stay in touch with Buffalo and Montreal atop the Northeast Division.

In the unlikely event that Bruins players forget that first meeting with the Leafs or haven't received word of mouth accounts from around the league, they have been reminded by Julien often over the past few days.

"They definitely have earned the reputation that they work hard and they never give up," Bruins forward Michael Ryder said of the Leafs. "When a team does that, you can never take them lightly.

"I think we learned that lesson the first game. I think that maybe kind of took it a little too easy and they won every battle. We know we can't do that (tonight). We have seen first hand that they will keep coming at us."

There's another element of familiarity for the Bruins, who are one point ahead of the Leafs in the division standings with a game in hand.

SIMILARITIES

When Julien looks at the Leafs, he sees a group that is starting to resemble the outfit he coached to a surprise playoff berth this past spring.

The Bruins of a year ago entered the regular-season with modest expectations and then ended up grabbing the final playoff position in the East. Though Leafs coach Ron Wilson is quick to dismiss any mention of the "P" word, not many associated the Bruins with the playoffs a year ago, either.

And by the end of the season, no one was taking them lightly.

"We were one of those teams last year that was supposed to be a little like the Leafs (are now)," Julien said. "And just with our work ethic, we caught a couple of teams by surprise. Then our work ethic became habit and we kept pushing through the whole year.

"(The Leafs) gave us a lesson that we gave other teams last year."

Tonight we'll see if they've done their homework.


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