More than just wins and losses on the line as Leafs-Bruins rivalry builds

More than just wins and losses on the line as Leafs-Bruins rivalry builds

The Toronto Maple Leafs kept their playoff hopes alive with another thrilling victory Thursday—a 4-3 shootout triumph over the Boston Bruins. That should hold them off until Sunday at least, when the eighth-place New York Rangers could lock up the final playoff berth in the Eastern Conference with a win over the Philadelphia Flyers. But this late in the game, what’s more interesting than the post-season ramifications is the rivalry unfolding between the two Northeast Division clubs.

Historically, there has always been a state of healthy competition between the Leafs and the Bruins. But the animosity has reached new heights of late, after Brian Burke took the reigns as the Leafs’ general manager. Burke orchestrated a pair of blockbuster deals with Boston—first acquiring Phil Kessel in exchange for a small fortune in draft picks, then unloading veteran defenceman Tomas Kaberle at the trade deadline this year—that have upped the ante whenever the teams meet. Since the value of the picks that changed hands is determined by where the squads finish, respectively, in the standings, there is always that extra something on the line when the two sides play.

Damien Cox recently laid out the nuts and bolts of what’s at stake (it’s a touch complicated):

For the Leafs, the good news is the 2011 No. 1 pick overall is no longer in play.

Right now, the Leafs sit 22nd overall and can’t finish lower than 25th, which means even with the draft lottery the Bruins can no longer dream of getting the top pick with the second of two first round selections gained through the 2009 Phil Kessel deal.

Small victories for Leaf Nation.

If the Leafs fall no further, the highest the lottery could move the Bruins up to would be fifth overall – no team can move up more than four places – while the Leafs could also still bump a few notches upwards in the standings.

The Leafs, meanwhile, own Boston’s first round pick from last month’s Tomas Kaberle deal. Today, the Bruins sit seventh overall, but the actual value of that pick will be determined through how Boston fares in the post-season combined with their regular season finish. The Bruins will win their division but right now have the fewest points of any division leader, and that status could determine where the first rounder owned by the Leafs lands.

Every time the Leafs do battle with the Bruins, all of this hangs in the balance—not to mention that, in certain respects, the season series (which Toronto dominated, taking four of six tilts) is a kind of referendum on Burke’s tenure as the Leafs’ GM.

No wonder the team plays their best hockey against the Beantown boys.

• Cox: Leafs extend stunning playoff push into April [Toronto Star]
The Longer View [Toronto Star]
Kadri scores OT winner to keep Leafs’ season alive [Toronto Star]
• Leafs stay in hunt [Globe and Mail]
• Leafs stayin’ alive [Toronto Sun]