Scotiabank Hockey Day in Canada
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Hockey Night in CanadaBruins beat Toronto again, this time with underdog Jamie Tardif

Posted: Saturday, February 2, 2013 | 11:45 PM

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Boston Bruins winger Jamie Tardif (68) only had 5:30 of ice time in his debut effort on Saturday night, but he did have a couple scoring chances against the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Abelimages/Getty Images) Boston Bruins winger Jamie Tardif (68) only had 5:30 of ice time in his debut effort on Saturday night, but he did have a couple scoring chances against the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Abelimages/Getty Images)

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Jamie Tardif only hopped over the boards for eight shifts, but just pulling on No. 68 with the spoked B logo on the front made this night special for those who know his steadfast story.

Even a narrow 1-0 defeat to the Boston Bruins does not sit well with the faithful of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

How could it? A Bruins visit to the Air Canada Centre always represents a reminder of what could have been for Maple Leaf fans, and usually a loss to commiserate over. Boston, after all, has gone a dominant 13-2-3 in their last 18 trips to Toronto.

It's always: what if the Maple Leafs didn't give up those two first-round picks for Phil Kessel? How good would a pair of building blocks like Tyler Seguin and defenceman Dougie Hamilton, who played his first game against Toronto on Saturday, look in blue and white?

Hamilton and Seguin were the draft picks the Bruins used from the Kessel trade. Another one that got away to the division rivals was goalie Tuukka Rask, dealt to Boston from the Maple Leafs in exchange for Andrew Raycroft seven years ago. The 25-year-old Rask now has gone 7-1-0 against Toronto after his 21-save shutout. How good would the Maple Leafs be with him in goal?

With Hamilton and Rask as their No. 1 netminder, the balanced Bruins are Stanley Cup contenders once again. But like any elite team they will have to stay healthy. They beat the Maple Leafs without third-line forward Daniel Paille and important fourth-line leader Shawn Thornton on Saturday.

Special night for Tardif

But the absence of the two veterans opened the door for 28-year-old Jamie Tardif to play his first NHL game after more than 450 minor-league regular season and playoff games.

Tardif only hopped over the boards for eight shifts and 5:30 of ice time in his debut effort, but he did have a couple scoring chances in the second period. Besides, just pulling on No. 68 with the spoked B logo on the front made this night special for those who know his steadfast story.

He and his centre Jordan Staal helped the Peterborough Petes with the 2005-06 OHL championship. But the Welland, Ont. native never did sign with the Calgary Flames, the team that selected him in the fourth round of the 2003 NHL entry draft.

Instead, he eventually hooked up with Detroit Red Wings AHL affiliate in Grand Rapids. But there was no room for advancement in that organization. So after five seasons with Grand Rapids, Tardif had his hope renewed after the Bruins came calling.

Then, on Thursday evening, while on the bus with his Providence teammates, head coach Bruce Cassidy came to the back of the bus to tell Tardif he had been promoted.

"I always tried to stay positive," Tardif said. "Boston is a good fit for my style of play which is gritty and going hard to the net. I think the lockout actually helped me. The coaches were there almost every practice."

His skating was the skill that held Tardif back. But he's right. He did make an impression on head coach Claude Julien and the Bruins management team during the lockout. He has a scoring touch. He has grit. He has determination.

Inspirational trainer

He also had inspiration in former NHLer-turned-personal trainer Aaron Downey. While working out in Downey's barn in Shelburne, Ont., the past few summers, Downey kept telling his client to keep pushing because you never know.

Downey didn't play his first NHL game until age 25 and went on to play 243 games with the Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks, Dallas Stars St. Louis Blues, Montreal Canadiens and Red Wings.

"He's been my inspiration," said Tardif, who played a season with Downey in Grand Rapids. "He's helped my development and he has kept me focused on the right things. I can't thank him enough."

When Tardif was asked if he knew his old junior stomping grounds in Peterborough was the site of next week's Hockey Day in Canada he admitted he didn't know about the celebration.

"Isn't that something?" he said. "I hope I'm still with the Bruins when it happens."

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