Bruins crucial test for Leafs

TERRY KOSHAN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 7:56 AM ET

The Maple Leafs are eagerly anticipating facing a Boston Bruins club that does not include Joe Thornton, but realize they're going to have to worry more about themselves for the next couple of nights.

Before they settle into turkey dinner during their two-day Christmas break, the Leafs hope to avoid a few turkeys of their own. They are in Beantown tonight for the first half of a home-and-home set with the Bruins before returning to the Air Canada Centre tomorrow night.

"They are a team that is right behind us and these are important games," Leafs coach Pat Quinn said. "The fact they are back-to-back, I don't know if that builds anymore intensity than would normally exist, but it is something that does not happen a lot."

The struggling Bruins aren't on the Leafs' tail like Quinn says, but they will be a lot closer if they sweep Toronto. The Leafs, in fourth place in the Northeast Division, presently are nine points ahead of the Bruins.

Tie Domi will suit up tonight after missing two games with a shoulder injury. And just as he had hoped, Jeff O'Neill escaped anything serious after a collision with Janne Niinimaa of the New York Islanders on Monday night.

"It was a lot less than I expected," said O'Neill, who has a charley horse. "I woke up (Tuesday morning) with a clean slate. It's one of those things where it can be terrible when you wake up or fine, so fortunately it is all good."

None of Alex Steen (thumb), Eric Lindros (wrist) nor Nik Antropov (knee) practised yesterday and none are expected back in the lineup until after Christmas.

The Leafs have demonstrated perfectly in their past two games the handle on what the referees will call is a slippery one. After being relatively disciplined, Toronto was short-handed 10 times against the Islanders two nights after being short 11 times against the Ottawa Senators. On only one other occasion this season had the Leafs hit double-digits in being a man down.

For defenceman Ken Klee, the solution is rather simple.

"We have to realize that when a ref is going to call every time you touch a guy with your stick, we can't do it," Klee said. "We are not trying to hook guys, but when you just kind of turn with a guy and naturally put your stick on his stick, some of those calls are the hardest for us."

The bright side for the Leafs is one player they won't have to think about is Thornton, traded to the San Jose Sharks on Nov. 30.

"He is one of the top four or five forwards in the league and it will be nice not to have to play against him," Bryan McCabe said.

"But they still have some good players and we're expecting a tough game."


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