WILMINGTON, Mass. There are no shortage of back stories and side angles when it comes to the Bruins and Maple Leafs these days.
Theyre both Original Six teams and theyre tightlylinked by multiple trades between the two franchises over the last couple seasons with the Phil Kessel escape to Toronto and subsequent Tyler Seguin draft as the most franchise-altering swap for either organization in their recent history together.Each time they meet the question of "Who won the Kessel deal?" is renewed again.
These things bring the Bruins and Leafs closertogether, and theres the neck-and-neck race for top position in the Northeast Division on top of it all.
But theres also a little something missing from the LeafsBruins rivalry, and its not difficult to perfectly diagnose. As Alec Baldwin most perfectly said in picking apart the Red SoxYankees rivalry "just like fire doesn't have a rivalry with kindling, lawnmowers don't have a rivalry with grass and that accurately explains their relationship: Quite simply the Bruins (fire) have enjoyed a thorough domination over the Leafs (kindling) for the last 5 years as the franchises have spun in opposite directions.I dont think theres any extra juice to Leaf games, said Tim Thomas. Every team is important. We havent overlooked them. But its not the same type of rival Montreal is, or Vancouver, because we havent played a playoff series against them in so long.The Bruins and Leafs havent met in the playoffs in 37 years, and havent clashed anywhere close to the 34 times that the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens have skated in anger against each other in the playoffs. Instead Toronto has missed out on the fun at the bottom of the league.Toronto has failed to properly vanquish a Bruins team thats bounced them like a puck on bad ice in multiple ways over the last handful of seasons.That domination has spilled over into this year as the Bruins are 3-0-0 against the Maple Leafs and have outscored Toronto by a 19-5 margin in those three lopsided results. So Toronto will have some hate in their hearts when they take the ice at the TD Garden Saturday night, and the Leafs have some legit tough guys in Jay Rosehill and Colton Orr should they decide to get a little grumpy like their rumpled GM after a tough day at the office.No matter what happens in the regular season it still won't feel like the seething contempt the Bruins hold for a hockey club like Montreal after so many meetings over the years, and now Vancouver deserves entrance onto that list after their hate-fueled Stanley Cup Final.The rivalry with Montreal has been built up over decades because the Bruins and the Canadiens get matched up so often in the playoffs, said Thomas, who has seemingly learned how to thrive off those playoff matchups with hated opponents. I dont think rivalries are made. Rivalries just happen.It would probably take a nasty playoff series to come anywhere close to being like Montreal temporarily. Even with Vancouver that will probably go away in three or four years if we dont meet them again in the playoffs. We just dont play them enough otherwise to keep that hatred going.It will also probably go away for Thomas when Roberto Luongo hand his tire pump have vacated Vancouver.But things could get interesting is the future for these two franchises that have been operating in the shadow of each other over the last four decades. The Leafs finally appear that theyre playoff-ready again, and it seems the Bruins and Leafs are on something of a collision course when it comes to a playoff match this upcoming season.The Bruins are distantly back in the pack of the rogues gallery of Toronto enemies. The Black and Gold lag far behind the Montreal Canadiens, Ottawa Senators and even the Buffalo Sabres that the Leafs share their home turf with. But they're moving up the ranks of teams Toronto loves to hate.Its not difficult envisioning a situation where Thank You, Kessel chants will ring through the Garden during the playoffs, and Toronto willingly plays the role of truculent heel during a potential playoff series. Saturday nights game between the two teams in Boston could give a sneak preview of how a postseason best-of-seven series might just go down.There is a lot on the line in the last few games with the Leafs given the top spot in the division, said Milan Lucic. They obviously dont enjoy losing to us in a big way during the first three games of this season and theyre going to bring a little more tomorrow night. So we need to bring more as well.Its funny though. Meeting in the playoffs is when you do really start to hate another team. Theyre doing a great job this year playing the way they have. Theyre looking right now like they might end that drought of not making the playoffs, so who knows?There will be some juice as Tim Thomas called it when the Bruins and Leafs hit the ice for the second half of an enjoyable home-and-home series between the two squads Saturday night.But it could be much, much livelier if the two teams tangle during the postseason five months down the line, and the hate really stars to pour out on the ice.