Bruins Have Dominated Toronto This Season, But Will Face Greater Challenge With Randy Carlyle Behind Leafs’ Bench

Bruins Have Dominated Toronto This Season, But Will Face Greater Challenge With Randy Carlyle Behind Leafs' BenchThe Bruins have strived all season to avoid worrying about their opponent on a given night and instead focusing on their own game.

That approach could be tested on Tuesday when the Bruins take on the Maple Leafs in what Toronto general manager Brian Burke proclaimed the "center of the hockey universe" earlier this year. That statement came in happier times, when the Leafs were officially named as participants in next year's Winter Classic against Detroit in Michigan's Big House.

Burke's been making news again, but this time not in a way he wanted. He finally fired long-time friend and coach Ron Wilson on Friday after the Leafs fell into a 1-9-1 slide and appeared to fall out of playoff contention. They're still a long shot at best to end their eight-year postseason drought, but the Leafs suddenly do have a little hope after beating the Habs in Montreal in new coach Randy Carlyle's first game behind the bench on Saturday.

Now Carlyle will make his home debut Tuesday against the Bruins, and a Boston team suffering from its own issues with injuries and inconsistent play will be thrust into the glaring spotlight of a rabid hockey market where chants of "Fire Wilson" will be replaced by cheers for the team with renewed hope with a new face behind the bench.

"There's no doubt it'll be a different atmosphere with a new coach in," Bruins coach Claude Julien told reporters after Tuesday's morning skate in Toronto. "And I think he's been well received overall, and deservingly so. He's a good coach."

It's a return to his roots for Carlyle, a Sudbury, Ontario native who made his NHL playing debut with the Leafs in 1976-77 before playing the bulk of his 1,055 career games in Pittsburgh and Winnipeg, but he's focusing on the future in Toronto rather than the past.

"Nostalgia? If nostalgia means nervous, I guess that would apply here," Carlyle said of being back in Toronto. "Obviously this is center stage of the hockey universe here. It's the first opportunity for me to step behind the bench of the Toronto Maple Leafs in our own building. It's an event in your life. Not many people get to do this and I'm very, very fortunate to be in this situation."

Teams often experience a bump in play immediately after a coaching change. Relief at the exit of the former boss and a desire to prove themselves to the new coach can bring the best out of players' games.

The Bruins are plenty familiar with that phenomenon. They played the Kings right after Terry Murray was fired, and spoiled interim coach John Stevens' debut with a 3-0 win at the Garden on Dec. 13. Less than a week later, the Bruins handed Montreal a 3-2 loss in Boston in Randy Cunneyworth's second game after taking over from Jacques Martin.

But Carlyle could prove a tougher challenge. He has a proven track record, having led Anaheim to a Cup in 2007. He also went 4-2-0 against the Bruins while with the Ducks.

Carlyle won't have to win the respect of his new charges. Instead, the Leafs are more likely to be fired up to earn his respect, and the opportunities and playing time that come with it.

"Personally, I didn't think he was going to be out of a job for very long, and I was right," Julien said of Carlyle. "He's going to bring some accountability to this team in the way that he likes his players to play hard both ways, offensively and defensively. No doubt his first game here, the players will be pretty psyched to play for him as well. We expect a tough game."

The Bruins have dominated Toronto this season, winning each of the first four meetings by a combined 23-6 count.

"We know the record that we have against them, and that is embarrassing," Carlyle said. "To look at the record, we are embarrassed, and we want to make a change in that. We have to play the game to a higher level, on the road and in this building. This is our building, and we want make it as difficult as possible for teams to come in here and have success against us."

The last of those Boston victories over the Leafs came at the start of December, and Boston has struggled mightily since mid-January. They are just 10-12-2 in their last 24 games, losing two straight over the weekend.

They can't afford to take any team lightly these days, much less a Toronto team inspired by a new taskmaster behind the bench.

"I think they're a team that's always been giving us a [run] for our money," Bruins forward Patrice Bergeron said on Monday. "It's a team that works hard, a lot of youth, a lot of energy, and a lot of skill also. It's always a tough game against them, we know they play real good at home usually.

”Now with a new coach, it usually brings you, I guess, a second life and you want to prove to your coach you belong, so we’re all aware of all that," Bergeron added. "We know for us, it's about playing our game and playing our system and making sure we bring that, and don't wait and see what they got and really bring our game."

Have a question for Douglas Flynn? Send it to him via Twitter at @douglasflynn or send it here. He will pick a few questions to answer every week for his mailbag.

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