Nov. harsh for Northeast

LANCE HORNBY -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 9:36 AM ET

One bear trap to go before the Maple Leafs are out of the dangerous Northeast woods.

Tonight's match against the Boston Bruins concludes a frenetic schedule within the division that has seen five teams beating up on each other since Nov. 1 -- a total of 45 games -- wrapping up this week.

"It replicates playoffs," Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli said yesterday. "It's not over yet for us, but I'd say we've been average at best and depleted by injuries. But you want to grab at least a point from these games to stay above water."

The Leafs spun their wheels with a record of 3-2-1, plus a loss to the Atlantic Division New York Rangers. Boston and Montreal gained a bit more Northeast ground this month, the Ottawa Senators stretched their lead and the Buffalo Sabres' troubles continued. Coach Paul Maurice was asked yesterday to re-assess the division since Halloween.

"I'll have a better idea after (tonight)," he said. "If we come out of this above .500 that's okay, although we're not going to jump up and down about it.

"We're on track, but I think Boston will try and do the same things we did to Ottawa (the patient road game)."

If any Leafs are too cocky about upsetting the Sens on Saturday, they only need to see they've no back-to-back home wins since March 24-27 of last season.

"Maybe that is what our problem has been," winger Darcy Tucker said. "We've looked back a little too much or looked forward. As a team, your focus should just be on the very next game."

In their only other game against Boston this year, the Leafs were awful in Beantown, losing 5-2, prompting much soul searching and a few rumours of changes at the top. But the sun came out on the weekend.

The reuniting of defencemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle in full-strength situations helped their comfort level on the power play, and vice-versa.

"It just got to the point where we were putting young defencemen (Andy Wozniewski and Staffan Kronwall) in high-responsibility situations with lots of ice time," Maurice said. "But we need them (Kaberle and McCabe) out there."

The Leafs' forwards also checked well on Saturday, killing four minors and getting the bounces as well as big saves from Vesa Toskala. Duplicating that type of effort has been the challenge this season.

"We were standing on the right side of the puck," Maurice said of limiting the usually opportunistic Ottawa forwards to minimal chances. "We didn't try and look for plays that weren't there, we just banged the puck out."

The Leafs have experimented with new lines the past few days, putting rookie Jiri Tlusty on right wing with heavy hitters Nik Antropov and Mark Bell and placing John Pohl alongside Tucker and Kyle Wellwood for a mix of creativity and tenacity. Pohl likely will stay there while winger Chad Kilger takes another day or two recovering from a leg injury.

 NORTHEAST VS. NORTHEAST
 Team     GP Rec.  1-goal Pts.
                   games
 Ottawa   8  6-2-0   3    12
 Montreal 8  4-4-0   2     8
 Boston   8  3-3-2   6     8
 Toronto  6  3-2-1   2     7
 Buffalo  8  2-5-1   4     5

Photos