Leafs, Bruins missing firepower

MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 11:02 AM ET

Imagine going into a crucial do-or-die battle without your most lethal weapon.

Such is the dilemma both the Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins likely will face when they lock horns tonight at the Air Canada Centre, the first leg of a vital home-and-home series that definitely will help determine the post-season aspirations of each team.

Barring a miracle, the Leafs and Bruins will be without their respective leading scorers entering this late-season Northeast Division showdown.

Vowing to be back before the end of the season, captain Mats Sundin, who continues to top the Leafs with 77 points, is doubtful for tonight after his slightly torn groin muscle did not allow him to go full out during a skate prior to practice yesterday morning.

NO SYMPATHY

Of course, the Bruins have little sympathy for Sundin and co., especially after revealing yesterday that shifty Marc Savard would not accompany the team to Toronto.

Savard, who has racked up 78 points, remained behind in Boston, where he is scheduled to undergo a CT scan today after being cross checked in the back by the Montreal Canadiens' Steve Begin over the weekend.

In six previous head-to-head matchups between the Leafs and Bruins this season, Sundin and Savard had seven points each.

Informed that the Bruins also would be without their big offensive gun, Leafs coach Paul Maurice coyly offered up an idea.

"We'll take Sundin, they can have Savard and we'll play them straight up," Maurice said, tongue planted firmly in cheek.

Claude Julien, Maurice's coaching colleague from Boston, had a similar wry retort when asked about the Bruins injury woes.

"I seem to think I lead a good life, so I don't know why it happens to me," Julien said.

With Savard out of the lineup, the Bruins will be tissue-thin up the middle. Julien will be forced to use three rookies -- David Krejci (18 points), Petteri Nokelainen (nine points) and Vladimir Sobotka (four points) -- at centre, with Toronto native Glen Metropolit supplying the only veteran presence at the position. Phil Kessel also could be moved into the middle.

"You go through these things and feel snakebit," Julien said. "(But) I still believe in this team and, as a group, we can pull through this.

"The advantage we have is that we've faced (adversity) all year. So it's not a shock to our system where it's like: 'Wow, look what we're up against!' ... We've been up against it all year. I'm as optimistic as always."

The Bruins lead the Leafs by four points for the eighth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Of course, with the Washington Capitals just two behind Boston and both the Buffalo Sabres and Florida Panthers three back, there could be a chaotic shuffling of the standings by night's end as all five teams are in action this evening.

Sundin hopes to be a factor in this logjam by week's end, perhaps aiming for a return for the Leafs-Bruins rematch Thursday at the TD Banknorth Garden in Boston.

"As soon as I'm skating and I feel that it's good enough to play the game, I will," Sundin said. "I understand the situation we are in this season and the importance of winning, especially these two games here, but saying that, I think our team's been playing great and if we keep playing the way we are, we'll have a good chance to make the playoffs.

"It's just that I don't have the capacity in my leg right now to play the way I should. As soon as I have that, I'll be out there practising full and playing games."

The Leafs are 3-1 since Sundin was injured March 12 in Philadelphia.

"I'm confident I'm going to play before this season is over," Sundin said. "I'm hoping this week. Hopefully we'll get the progress that we want here."

Nik Antropov, the Leafs' second-leading scorer who is out with a knee injury, skated lightly for 15 minutes yesterday but will not dress tonight.

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SOMETHING'S BRUIN!

The Maple Leafs and Bruins have split their first six meetings this season, each side winning three times. A look at each team's top scorers in those head-to-head battles.

G A P G A P

Tomas Kaberle 0 8 8 Marc Savard 1 6 7

Mats Sundin 2 5 7 Zdeno Chara 2 4 6

Bryan McCabe 2 4 6 Peter Schaefer 3 2 5

Alex Steen 1 5 6 Marco Sturm 2 3 5

Nik Antropov 3 2 5 Dennis Wideman 3 2 5

Leafs have outscored Bruins 20-18 in their six meetings


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