The Boston Bruins reclaimed first place in the NHL's Northeast Division by holding off a pesky Toronto Maple Leafs team 5-2 on Thursday night.
Boston's second home win over the Leafs in five days wasn't nearly as impressive as Saturday's 7-2 whipping, but it may have carried more meaning as it put the resurgent Bruins (16-9-5) back atop a division they were expected to run away with for a second straight season.
Boston has rebounded nicely from a sluggish 6-7-2 start, going 10-2-3 since. Thursday's win, the Bruins' fourth in five games, leapfrogged them over the idle Buffalo Sabres for top spot in the Northeast.
Contrary to what the score might suggest, it didn't come easily. Boston took its foot off the gas after 40 minutes, and the Leafs nearly made them pay, cutting a 3-0 deficit to 3-2 early in the third period. But the Bruins pulled away with a pair of goals by veteran Mark Recchi — the second into an empty net with 12 seconds left.
"Three-goal leads are the worst," said Recchi, the type who may have sweated the 7-0 advantage the Bruins held at one point on Saturday. "We were OK for two periods. In the third they came out and we weren't ready for it. It's nice that we responded after they did come back."
Tuukka Rask made 32 saves to beat Toronto for the second straight game and improve to 6-0-1 in his last seven starts.
Vesa Toskala stopped 29 shots for the Leafs (10-14-7), who had rebounded from last Saturday's shellacking with consecutive home wins over Atlanta and the New York Islanders before losing to the Bruins for the seventh straight time.
"We've only got one win in our division, which is awful," Leafs defenceman Ian White said. "We got spanked by these guys not even a week ago. We were expecting to come in here and have a different showing. It's unfortunate. It could be a number of factors, I'm not exactly sure what the problem is but we have to find ways to win."
Mikhail Grabovsky and Nikolai Kulemin scored Toronto's goals after Mark Stuart, Derek Morris and David Krejci — with a neat breakaway effort that he set up on his own by blocking a point shot — gave Boston its 3-0 lead.
Mike Komisarek set up the Kulemin tally for his first point as a Maple Leaf.
Phil Kessel, the ex-Bruin who was booed mercilessly in his return to Boston last weekend, was given a slightly better reception this time but again failed to register a point.