'Huge game' in Boston vs. Bruins is no time for Maple Leafs to sleep in again

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Rarely will a wake-up call come louder for the Maple Leafs.

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From the ringing of boos after a season-worst effort Tuesday against the Kings, they get the bells of the Old North Church in Boston less than 48 hours later, versus the undefeated (in regulation) Bruins.

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“Huge game,” defenceman Timothy Liljegren said Wednesday morning after coach Sheldon Keefe scrapped full practice and kept business just to a pre-scout meeting and the afternoon flight. “Because of last night (a 4-1 loss) and the next opponent. They’ve been buzzing all season and we need a response.”

While cutting the Leafs some slack after a season-long five-game trip in which they netted seven of 10 points, Tuesday fit an annoying pattern: Early or mid-week games against Western Conference or lower-echelon Eastern teams often prove problematic.

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On Tuesday, add the fatigue factor to another quiet night from newcomers Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi and John Klingberg.

Auston Matthews said that in addition to those players looking to find their way and the coaching staff’s efforts to that effect, the dressing room leadership group and veteran Leafs also have a stake in getting the new guys settled.

“It’s on us to continue to set those standards for everybody,” Matthews said. “There has been good, there’s been bad, but just the consistency we want to see from the team as a whole, I don’t think we’ve played our best hockey. There hasn’t been a game where we’ve put together the full 60 minutes of rolling all four lines and being solid throughout.

“It’s something to clean up in different areas and (Boston) is a unique opportunity for us. We’re playing our next four against divisional teams, all important points.”

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The Bruins have not lost in regulation (8-0-1) and have allowed half as many goals as Toronto (14-28) through nine games. They’re a team in a perpetual news cycle, from last year’s NHL record 65 wins to a shocking first-round playoff exit to Florida, a blow to Stanley Cup odds when Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci retired, then another hot start in October.

The Leafs can’t look past them, even without star defenceman Charlie McAvoy, who has begun serving a four-game league suspension for an illegal check to the head. The B’s also had to ice defenceman Matt Grzelcyk with an upper body injury.

“It’s pretty apparent they’re once again the class of the league, certainly the division,” Keefe said. “This is a chance for us to go in and get a response. We’ve played well in Boston and part of that is because you know what you’re in for.”

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Keefe thought Boston’s two significant retirements and the departures of Taylor Hall and Nick Foligno have been offset in large part by staying with solid defensive structure and goaltending from Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman.

“That gives you a chance to win every night,” he said. “They haven’t missed a beat, they have a great culture and great leadership. In some ways it’s surprising, but I don’t think we should be surprised they haven’t gone away.”

It sounds like Keefe will proceed with Joseph Woll in his net, a nod to the rookie’s school years at Boston College and what had been a near-perfect record on the trip prior to the L.A. letdown.

“His mental approach and his maturity has been the quickest development,” Keefe said of Woll, who joined Ilya Samsonov as the only Leafs on the ice Wednesday. “Considering he hasn’t played a lot and missed all of camp a year ago.

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“He put a lot into his mental game, while not being able to play. He’s just in a good place now and to that end, I don’t think he played poorly (23 saves against the Kings), but it’s his first little bump in the road in terms of goals against and losing a game like that . But I feel good about him being able to handle that and move on.”

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Keefe has been in contact with his brother Adam, coach of the EIHL’s Belfast Giants, in the wake of the Adam Johnson tragedy on the weekend in which the Nottingham Panthers forward died when an opponent’s skate blade slashed his throat. Belfast plays Nottingham later this month.

“A very difficult and terrible situation for the entire hockey world,” the Toronto coach said. “It’s been a tough time and their league went on hold for a little while to let everyone process what’s happened.”

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Mark Giordano was amused to get a text from a friend last week who had alerted him to his goal in Nashville making the 40-year-old the third-oldest Leafs defenceman to score in the past six decades, behind the late Allan Stanley and coffee chain legend Tim Horton.

“That’s pretty cool,” Giordano said. “You could look at it two ways, but being the oldest guy in the league (this season), I look at it in the positive for sure.”

Any plans to launch a fast-food chain himself in Toronto when he retires?

“Gio Donuts? Maybe some canollis,” he said with a laugh.

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Joe Thornton, whose official retirement last week at age 44 and was the last active NHLer to score at Maple Leaf Gardens back in January of 1999, will help in a management role with Canada’s Spengler Cup team in Davos next month.

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He had played for Davos’ Swiss league team during past NHL labour disputes.

In his one season in Toronto, the laid-back Thornton made quite an impression on younger Leafs such as Matthews.

“We’d joke about it, him saying ‘I’m never retiring,’” Matthews said. “It was awesome, to spend even one year with him. We keep in touch and talk a lot. I’ve played with a lot of guys who are considered legends of the game (such as) Patrick Marleau, Joe, Jason Spezza, Gio … they’ve had amazing careers.

“We’ve done a couple of Vegas trips together. He’s so fun to be around, such high energy and he gets everybody involved.

“He was never stressed, which was finny. Every day was a new day, go out and have fun.”

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