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The Boston Bruins may have dealt a fatal blow to the Toronto Maple Leafs' playoff hopes when their offensive awakening led to a win in Toronto on Tuesday.
Now they can make it official.
The Bruins can eliminate the Leafs from postseason contention while bolstering their own playoff bid with a regulation win on Thursday night in the back end of the teams' home-and-home series.
Toronto (35-32-10) had put together an impressive three-game winning streak without its two top scorers to stay in the race, but the Leafs' luck ran out on Tuesday in a 6-2 loss to Boston. Mats Sundin and Nik Antropov both practiced Wednesday, but it may be too late for them to aid the team's postseason cause.
The Leafs are six points behind eighth-place Boston in the Eastern Conference. A regulation defeat Thursday would bump them eight points behind Boston and Philadelphia with only four games left with the Bruins and Flyers holding the tiebreakers.
"You keep battling until the end," Toronto's Alexei Ponikarovsky told the team's official Web site. "Whatever you've got, that's probably what you deserve."
The Bruins (38-28-10) hope that for them, that's still a playoff spot even though they had lost nine of 11 before Tuesday. While they may no longer have to worry about Toronto catching them, Washington remains just two points behind. The Capitals play at Tampa Bay on Thursday.
Boston had scored just 14 goals in its previous 10 games, but the Bruins tallied six in one game Tuesday for the first time since a 6-3 win over the Flyers on Nov. 26.
"There was a lot at stake," Bruins coach Claude Julien said. "My message to the guys was that we needed to enjoy this experience. 'If you guys give everything you've got, we'll deal with the consequences later. But lay it all on the line tonight.'"
Making the lopsided win more impressive was that Boston leading scorer Marc Savard was out with a back injury and top-scoring defenseman Zdeno Chara was held without a point. Chuck Kobasew, who is second on the team with 22 goals, also left the game early in the first period with an injury. It's unclear if Kobasew or Savard will be available Thursday.
David Krejci, Marco Sturm and Shawn Thornton each had a goal and an assist Tuesday as Boston had six different goal scorers.
The Bruins jumped to a 3-0 lead midway through the second period, the first time they had led by more than one goal since February. In 12 previous March games, Boston had led for a total of less than 23 minutes.
"You get behind that team and they just clog up the neutral zone and you find yourself doing things you shouldn't be doing like turning pucks over," Toronto's Matt Stajan said.
Sundin and Antropov could return to help the effort Thursday. Sundin leads the team with 77 points, but has missed the last five games with a groin injury. Antropov, tied for second on the Leafs with 52 points, has missed four contests with a knee injury.
The duo combined for three goals and two assists in an 8-2 win at Boston on March 6, but the Bruins have already clinched the season series with a 4-1-2 record against the Leafs.
Toronto has won six straight road games and is 8-0-1 in its last nine away from home.