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Leafs bloodied up by Bruins in Carlyle's ACC debut

Toronto Maple Leafs' Colby Armstrong takes a punch from Boston Bruins' Dennis Seidenberg in the second period.

FRED THORNHILL/Fred Thornhill/Reuters

The Boston Bruins bloodied them on the ice.

They beat them on the scoreboard -- albeit by a nose.

And despite a new man behind the bench, the Toronto Maple Leafs were unable to rally from behind even though they showed a little more fight than under Ron Wilson against the defending champs.

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Boston dumped the Leafs 5-4 on Tuesday night in a game that featured a little of everything, including injuries to two Toronto forwards -- Joffrey Lupul and Colby Armstrong -- and three tussles in a six-goal second period.

Even Tim Connolly got in on the act, dropping his gloves and wrestling Brad Marchand to the ground, falling just short of earning his first career fighting major in his 681st game.

All of the fisticuffs did little to distract Leafs coach Randy Carlyle from the way his team imploded defensively, giving their new bench boss his first loss and ample video material after letting Bruin after Bruin have their way in their own end.

"We got enough goals to win the hockey game," Carlyle said. "It's the defensive aspect that needs to be improved upon.

"Everybody knew that this team could score goals ... Tonight was just another indication of the amount of work that's necessary on the defensive side of it."

Not that that's anything new, not when Boston has outscored the Leafs an incredible 28-10 in five wins this season, earning 10 of their 81 points on the year against one team.

If there was any consolation for Carlyle, it was that this was Toronto's best showing against the Bruins on the year, as even after blowing two early leads, they nearly tied things up with Jonas Gustavsson on the bench in the dying seconds.

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Those defensive shortcomings nearly overcome with an offensive outburst were a familiar scene for everyone in the building, save for perhaps the man tasked with trying to turn things around with just 16 games to go.

Leafs defenceman Carl Gunnarsson had opened the game's scoring three minutes in, firing a shot through a screen to beat the recently shaky Tim Thomas high.

Boston tied things shortly thereafter when the puck took a couple funny hops and landed on fourth-liner Jordan Caron's stick in the crease for the first of his two tallies.

That set the table for a wild middle frame that started with both teams trading goals and ended with Connolly making like an enforcer for the second game in a row.

A power play marker by defenceman John-Michael Liles -- a game-time decision after running a 100-degree temperature a night earlier -- one minute in was quickly answered by two from Tyler Seguin and Chris Kelly.

Armstrong then drew a penalty the hard way, getting his face punched in (and nose likely broken) by Dennis Seidenberg and having to leave the game, which set up a 5-on-3 that Phil Kessel quickly capitalized on to make it 3-3.

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Again the deadlock was short-lived, however, with Caron finishing off a brilliant cross-crease feed from Chara to make it 4-3.

Seguin added another to put his team up by two heading to the third, where Toronto battled back to within one -- on a goal by the recently re-signed Mikhail Grabovski -- but couldn't find the equalizer.

After all, hoping to put five pucks past Tim Thomas isn't ever the best of plans.

Added up, it wasn't pretty for the home side -- and the loss leaves Toronto in 12th in the East and very much in need of a win less than 24 hours later against a very hot Pittsburgh Penguins team.

The Leafs will likely have to do so without Armstrong and, more importantly, Lupul, one of the team's MVPs who may be in for some time on the shelf with a wrist injury.

"Those are two guys that are tough to lose," captain Dion Phaneuf said. "Guys that come into the lineup have got to step up."

Carlyle had said in the lead-up to Tuesday's loss that he was "embarrassed" by the Leafs performance against the Bruins this season, despite only joining the team just last week and having no part in the ugly oh-fer showing.

A few hours later, he was party to yet another loss to a team that had his club's number all through Wilson's nearly four-year tenure.

"It's frustrating when you score four goals and you lose the hockey game," Carlyle said when asked if he was able to enjoy his Air Canada Centre debut. "That's as simple as I can put it."

After a pair of nearly two-hour practices led to this one, what's so far been a friendly face behind the bench likely earns a scowl as Carlyle's as-yet-unused doghouse gets a few tenants in time for Wednesday night.

There remains plenty of work to be done -- and time is running out for the new coach to wipe out some very old habits.

"This time of year, we don't want to be making mistakes that cost us games," Phaneuf said. "We're going to have to learn."

"We still battled back and we had lots of positives in the hockey game," Carlyle added. "Anytime you score four goals, you should feel good about the offensive side of it. But defence wins at this time of year."

And that more than anything is why Toronto hasn't had many Ws on the board of late.

Bruins work on bumping slump

It's been a fairly bizarre season in many ways for the defending champs, who began with a brief 3-7-0 Stanley Cup hangover before firing off an incredible 25-4-1 stretch into mid-January that had them two points from the league lead.

Since then, however, there's been a bit of a malaise in Beantown. Ever since Thomas's high profile snub of the White House prior to a game in Washington, the Bruins had won just seven of their last 18 games (7-10-1) heading into Tuesday's meeting with the Leafs.

Thomas has laboured at times since then, too, posting only a .907 save percentage in his last 14 appearances to fall to seventh in the league in the category.

Boston won't have any choice but to ride Thomas for a while, however, as Tuukka Rask is expected out roughly six weeks and Marty Turco is the one being parachuted in -- provided he clears waivers on Wednesday -- from the Austrian league.

The Bruins key strength for the past few seasons, goaltending is suddenly a question mark with the playoffs a little more than a month away.

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About the Author
Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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