TORONTO (Reuters) - The Boston Bruins pounded the Toronto Maple Leafs 6-2 on Tuesday to halt a three-game losing skid and cling to the Eastern Conference’s final playoff spot.
Boston maintained a tenuous grip on eighth place but it remains far from secure with the surging Washington Capitals, 3-2 winners over the Carolina Hurricanes, lurking just two points back entering the final weeks of the regular season.
”We needed this badly,“ Bruins netminder Tim Thomas told reporters. ”Our backs have been up against the wall, we haven’t come through every time but we have come through a few times.
“We’re sticking together trying to do what we have to do to get ourselves in the playoffs.”
The Maple Leafs’ post-season hopes appear all but over after they slipped six points behind the Bruins with just five games left.
A grim-faced capacity crowd quietly exited the Air Canada Centre knowing the Leafs are poised to miss the playoffs for a third straight year, the storied franchise’s longest post-season barren stretch in 80 years.
Just weeks ago the Bruins had looked assured of playoff spot but slowly slipped down the standings, losing six of last seven.
At the same time the Leafs, who sat near the bottom of the NHL standings in mid-January, entered the race with five wins in six games.
The Maple Leafs are refusing to wave the white flag, however, insisting a miracle finish to the season might see them through.
”Obviously this is disappointing for us,“ said Toronto’s Alex Steen. ”Right now our focus remains on the last playoff spot.
“We know we’re in a tough spot but we have five games to go and there’s really nothing else but wins.”
The Bruins grabbed the early lead on Glen Murray’s first period powerplay goal.
David Krejci doubled the advantage just 72 seconds into the second while Marco Sturm increased the lead to 3-0 midway through the period with another powerplay tally.
A goal from Jason Blake late in the period trimmed the Bruins’ advantage to 3-1, but Shawn Thornton broke in alone on Vesa Toskala to open the third period, sliding the puck into the open net to restore the three-goal cushion.
Toronto’s Alexei Ponikarovsky and Boston’s Phil Kessel traded goals before a desperate Toronto coach Paul Maurice withdrew Toskala with 3:13 left in regulation in favor of an extra attacker.
The Maple Leafs swarmed into the Boston zone but could not beat Thomas, Jeremy Reich sealing a comprehensive victory for the Bruins with an empty-net tally.
Writing by Steve Keating in Toronto; Editing by Ed Osmond