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Stuck at home again

Nothing goes Bruins' way as Maple Leafs keep pressure on

It was a missed opportunity.

With just five games remaining in the regular season, Boston had a chance last night to leapfrog Philadelphia (4-2 losers to the Islanders) into second place in the Eastern Conference. Ottawa's 4-0 win over Montreal enabled the Senators to pull within 2 points of Boston for third place, and Tampa Bay's 2-1 victory over New Jersey gave the Lightning a 3-point cushion atop the conference.

Instead, the Bruins handed a game to the Toronto Maple Leafs, 3-0, at the FleetCenter. The Bruins took too many penalties, looked fatigued, and were shut out for the 10th time this season (one shy of the club record) and for the eighth time on home ice, a franchise record.

As has been the case on too many occasions, the Bruins paraded to the box in the first period, giving up four power-play chances to the Maple Leafs. Although their penalty killing came through in a major way -- thanks in large part to forward Ted Donato -- it threw off the club's rhythm.

"We took too many penalties and it took us out of the hockey game," said coach Mike Sullivan. "When you spend eight of the first 20 minutes in the penalty box, it's tough to get guys into the [game]. Our killers did a great job all night long, [but] you exert a lot of energy defending and it's tough."

Boston's luck ran out in the middle period as the team fell behind, 2-0. Less than a minute in, the Maple Leafs got on the board on a goal by Joe Nieuwendyk. Alexei Ponikarovsky dished a pass to Nik Antropov in the left circle. Antropov took a shot and goalie Andrew Raycroft made the save, but Nieuwendyk tapped in the rebound at the right post at the 58-second mark. It was Nieuwendyk's 19th goal.

Fourth-line forward Doug Doull tried to infuse some energy into his team when he challenged Toronto enforcer Tie Domi to a fight at 2:37. It didn't look good for Doull at the start because Domi managed to get Doull's shirt up over his head, but Doull recovered well and got a few punches in before both ended up on the ice.

Unfortunately for the Bruins, it didn't seem to help. At 8:40, Toronto doubled its lead on a goal by Ron Francis. Owen Nolan, positioned along the left-wing boards, threw the puck over to Francis in the slot. Defenseman Sergei Gonchar went down on one knee to block the weak shot, but the puck trickled under the right pad of Raycroft to make it 2-0. When asked if he saw it, the young netminder smiled ruefully.

"I watched it go through my legs," said Raycroft. "It was a one-in-a-million shot. It happens and you just move on. [Gonchar] went out to block it and [Francis] didn't shoot it. He fooled both of us. He would've blocked it had [Francis] actually shot it. He completely missed it. It was a Tim Wakefield knuckleball."

The Bruins had chances to rally with back-to-back power plays but couldn't convert. Robert Reichel took a penalty at 15:05 when he held Michael Nylander. Then, Travis Green finished his check on Nieuwendyk and Antropov took issue with him and was called for roughing at 18:48, but Boston came up empty as the power play was negated by a Glen Murray penalty 48 seconds later. In all, the Bruins had four power plays to Toronto's seven, but neither team could convert.

Antropov sealed it with an empty-net goal at 18:17 of the third.

Sullivan said he wasn't overly concerned by the dubious statistic of eight shutouts at home, preferring to evaluate games on a case-by-case basis.

"I don't have an explanation for it," said Sullivan. "We track the scoring chances pretty close and in detail, and we generate as many scoring chances at home as we do on the road. The reality is this team has played extremely well at home for the last three months and our record shows it.

"Tonight was a case where we played a good hockey team who played a good game. If we could've stayed out of the penalty box, it would've allowed some of our guys to get into the hockey game."

in today's globe
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