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First place is on the line tonight

By Nancy Marrapese-Burrell
Globe Staff / November 30, 2011
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WILMINGTON - The Bruins spent another day of fine-tuning during practice yesterday at Ristuccia Arena in preparation for an important two-game set against the Northeast Division-leading Maple Leafs beginning tonight at Air Canada Centre.

A victory would not only elevate Boston into first place over Toronto but it would give the Bruins a 12-0-1 record for the month of November.

Coach Claude Julien said having a three-day breather wasn’t a negative, but the Bruins are ready to get back at it.

“It’s not a bad thing to have a couple of days off but at the same time, we’re looking forward [to tonight], and another few days until the game after that, so there’s no reason for us to hold back, and there’s lots of reasons for us to want to play well and win these games,’’ he said.

The Bruins expect a lot of pushback from the Maple Leafs, who were on the losing end of a 7-0 score Nov. 5. That was a pretty big embarrassment on home ice.

“It’s not something you forget when you’re on the receiving side,’’ said Julien. “I don’t think it’s going to be a hard game for them to get motivated for, and we’ve just got to be ready for that.

“When we focus on ourselves and we just go out and do the things that we have to do, we’re a lot better than when we worry about what’s going to happen and so on and so forth.’’

One player who has been hot of late is center Chris Kelly, who has four goals and two assists in the last five games. Even though the top line has been struggling, the rest of the lines have been taking up the slack.

“That’s definitely one of our strengths,’’ said Kelly. “I’ve been fortunate to be able to play with great linemates with Rich [Peverley] and Ben [Pouliot]. They’re easy to play with, they play the game right. They’re up and down, and good in their own end and can make plays in the offensive zone.

“That being said, [Patrice] Bergeron’s line has been great and [David] Krejci’s line has been great and [Gregory] Campbell’s line has been great. I think that has definitely been one of our strengths even last year and it’s carried on to this year.’’

Kelly added that it doesn’t hurt that the Bruins are battle-tested from all they went through last spring on the way to the Stanley Cup.

“We’re a year smarter, we’re a year more mature,’’ said Kelly. “When you can go through certain things like we did, especially in the playoffs, you grow as a hockey player and you grow as a person.’’

Ference is back

After a day off for maintenance, defenseman Andrew Ference was back at practice . . . When Julien was asked about Montreal forward Max Pacioretty being handed a three-game suspension for his hit on Penguins defenseman Kris Letang, he said, “It resembled a little bit the hit that [Marc] Savard took from [Matt] Cooke a few years ago, it was almost identical. That’s the league’s decision to make. It doesn’t have any links to what happened to him last year. It’s two totally different things. He was on the receiving end of one and the giving end of another.’’ . . . Former Bruin Joe Colborne is expected to be at center on the Maple Leafs’ third line with Joey Crabb and Matt Frattin. Julien said it was great for Colborne, who was drafted by Boston in the first round, No. 16 overall, in 2008, to get a chance to play in the NHL. “It would’ve been a matter of time probably with us as well,’’ said Julien. “But I liked him, I liked his skill level and obviously his size. He’s a big, strong centerman. I don’t think anyone wishes him not to do well. I’m one of those guys who really liked him personally. He was a great individual. To see him get an opportunity to play in the NHL is always nice.’’

Growing up

Former Bruin Phil Kessel leads the NHL in scoring with 31 points (16 goals) in 24 games for the Maple Leafs. Yesterday, it was announced that Kessel leads the NHL All-Star balloting with 258,446 votes. In Julien’s estimation, Kessel is largely the same player he was in Boston, only older. “He’s more experienced, there’s no doubt he’s more mature,’’ said Julien. “He’s still the guy who has the quick release that he had here. He still skated well here also. He’s just gotten a little bit better because of maturity and stuff like that.’’

Nancy Marrapese-Burrell can be reached at marrapese@globe.com.

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