BOSTON – The scene was eerily familiar.
Less than six minutes remained on the clock at TD Garden with the visitors warily protecting a one-goal lead. Exploding from the loud speakers was a rowdy tune from the Dropkick Murphys, the sea of black and yellow in attendance shouting along boisterously in support of the home side.
But unlike in that infamous Game 7 collapse last May, the flu-ridden Maple Leafs found a way to hang on and remain on top Tuesday night, scoring a rare 4-3 victory in front of the ravenous hometown fans of their fiercest rival – their first in the regular season since Mar. 2011.
"It almost felt like it was the playoffs again and this time we came out on top," said Jake Gardiner, who scored the second of two power-play goals against the Bruins. "It's just too bad it wasn't last year that it happened."
"Hopefully it bleeds some of the demons out of us," added Randy Carlyle of the victory, just the third in the past 15 road games for his team.
It took every last bit of will to hang on against the best team in the Eastern Conference, a Bruins squad which had won 10 of its previous 11 games at home. Manhandled in the final frame – they were outshot 15-6 – the Leafs required a pair of blocked shots from Tim Gleason to survive the one-goal victory, just the fifth in regulation for the club since the outset of November.
"I'm probably not going to give you 20 goals," said Gleason with a grin, "so that'll give you an idea of what I can do."
One win in January will in no way excuse what took place so painfully for the Leafs in this building last spring, but it should, at the very least, offer a jolt of confidence to a team that's struggled to find its way all year and especially in the past couple of months.
"They're better efforts, that's for sure," Carlyle said of the past three games, which include the most recent back-to-back wins. "We've raised our compete level and we're going to have to continue to do that to get points. The most frustrating for our hockey club has been that we haven't been able to achieve that with any consistency."
Back in a playoff position after falling out for the first time all year last week, Toronto knows it can ill afford to rest on the fleeting satisfaction of a needed road win.
Asked afterward what he hoped his team would grasp from the victory, Jonathan Bernier responded simply.
"Maturity," he said. "It's not easy to come in this building, especially what they went through last year losing in Game 7. It shows a lot of character for that team to come here and win it."
1. Rare Road Win
The road has been a cold and unforgiving place for the Leafs since the opening month of the season. In fact, Tuesday marked the club's first victory in regulation away from the ACC since Oct. 30, a stretch that includes 12 losses in 15 games.
"To be a good team, to be a playoff team, to be a team that's going to challenge, you have to win on the road," said Carlyle afterward.
2. Bozak's Enduring Hot Streak
Inked to a five-year deal worth $21 million in the summer, Tyler Bozak continues to thrive through one of the more productive stretches of his NHL career. Bozak scored twice and added an assist against the Bruins, giving him 17 points in the past 14 games and 22 points in 24 games this season.
The 27-year-old has nine goals on just 32 shots, scorching with a 28.1 per cent shooting accuracy.
"Obviously getting some good bounces," said Bozak, scoring his first of the night on a rebound, the second from a nifty backdoor feed from James van Riemsdyk. "Just found myself going to the right areas at the right time and pucks have been squirting out and I've been able to get some sticks on them. But also the guys I'm playing with have been making great plays to me and been creating space for myself, so I think that's been helping a lot too."
His linemates (for the most part Tuesday,) van Riemsdyk and Phil Kessel, have been heating up as well.
With a goal and an assist Tuesday, van Riemsdyk now has three goals and five points in the past three games. Kessel, meanwhile, had three assists in his third consecutive multipoint game. The 26-year-old actually entered the game with six career assists against the Bruins (reg. season), scoring three alone on this night.
3. Flu Bug
According to Carlyle, up to eight Leafs have been suffering from the flu over the past three days, including Colton Orr, who was forced to miss Tuesday's game and David Clarkson, who was sick on Monday night and missed the morning skate.
"I think Morgan [Rielly] gave the whole team the disease," joked Bozak afterward, "so he's been getting a lot of grief from some of the guys."
Creative efforts were made by the Toronto coaching staff in the playoffs last spring to free Kessel from the potential grips of Zdeno Chara, who had thoroughly dominated the Leafs sniper previously.
Such efforts, which found success in the first round of the seven-game series, continued Tuesday night.
Kessel was removed from his usual spot alongside Bozak and van Riemsdyk from the game's opening faceoff – replaced by Joffrey Lupul – and paired instead with Nazem Kadri and Mason Raymond. He bounced back to his usual line from time to time, but the message was clear.
"…if they want to play Chara against Phil, then we'll put him with Kadri and have another formidable offensive line that we think can provide offence," said Carlyle.
With Chara on the bench, Kessel scored an assist on Bozak's eighth of the season and first of the game.
5. Better Opportunity for Holland
Upon reassigning Peter Holland to the Marlies last week, Carlyle insisted that employing the 22-year-old on the fourth line was "probably hurting his development curve".
"On the way dow,n they just said that they were happy with me, not to read into [the decision] too much, but they just didn't want me playing three or four minutes a night – they wanted me to have some more ice-time," said Holland, recalled by the Leafs Monday after scoring three times in two games with the Marlies.
In his first game back with the club, Holland moved up in the lineup, replacing Jay McClement alongside Nik Kulemin and David Clarkson against the Bruins. Carlyle suggested before the game that McClement, who entered the night averaging nearly 17 minutes per game, was being overused.
"We think at times we're overtaxing Jay McClement," said Carlyle. "We're playing him way too much and the results come back in our penalty-killing and his ability to continue to provide energy. He's been a real solid player for us, but when we acquired him, we looked at him as being more of a fourth-line player that would step up and be our top penalty killer."
Carlyle spoke briefly with Holland at the end of Tuesday's morning skate. His advice?
"Just be a little bit more physical, just get inside on guys, just fight for a job," said Holland, who played nearly 11 minutes on Tuesday.
1-2-0 – Record versus Boston this season.
3-8-4 – Road record since the start of November.
17 – Points for Tyler Bozak in the past 14 games. Bozak has six goals and 11 assists in that span.
1 – Regulation road victories since Oct. 30.
5-5-1 – Record on the first half of back-to-back sets this season.
10:26 – Ice-time for Peter Holland in his return to the Leafs on Tuesday.
1 – Goals for Nazem Kadri in the past 15 games.
3 – Consecutive multipoint games for Phil Kessel, who has seven points in that span.
Special Teams Capsule
Season: 22.4% (5th)
Season: 77.8% (27th)
Quote of the Night
"Hopefully it bleeds some of the demons out of us."
- Randy Carlyle, on the significance of winning in Boston.
The Leafs host the Sabres Wednesday in the second end of a back-to-back.