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Leafs feel better prepared for Bruins

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TSN Toronto reporter Mark Masters checks in daily with news and notes on the Maple Leafs. The Leafs (optional) and Hurricanes skated at Scotiabank Arena ahead of tonight's game.

The standings say not much has changed in the last year, but the feeling in the Maple Leafs dressing room is they are now better prepared for the challenge presented by their rivals from Boston.

"Obviously, a year older, guys have been through it and some of our young guys are better players, which is a real positive thing for us," said head coach Mike Babcock. "Last year seems like a hundred years ago, to be honest with you."

The Bruins bested Toronto in seven games last spring and appear likely to enter this year's rematch as the higher seed once again.

"We've grown a lot," said centre Auston Matthews, "added pieces, I think a lot of us have grown individually. You try not to look too far ahead, focus on these last three games and really make sure that you’re preparing every night and bringing your 'A' game every night. But, obviously, it's in the back of your mind."

Last night's 2-1 win on the road against a top defensive team in the Islanders is being viewed as a big step forward for the Leafs. And now the focus is on building momentum in the final games of the regular season.

"This last stretch we've had, we know we've given up way less," said Babcock. "We haven't won, necessarily, every night, but given up way less. I think it's been a good thing for our team to have to dig in.

After allowing 24 goals in a four-game run in mid-March, the Leafs believe they've stabilized things.

"We went through a stretch of games for about a week to 10 days, which were extremely poor," noted defenceman Ron Hainsey, "and now we've come back and fixed some things in our game that have allowed us to play much better for maybe 10 days to two weeks, playing a way that I think we can all agree has a much better chance of success so that's much more positive, but the proof will be in the play coming up here in the next two weeks."

The Maple Leafs didn't just clinch a playoff spot on Monday night, they secured a rematch against rival Boston in the opening round. Last spring, the Bruins won in seven games coming back in the third period to get it done. This time around Toronto has John Tavares and a newfound confidence that they can flip the script.

One key in the turnaround has been more efficient breakouts.

"It's mostly about getting back to pucks first," Hainsey explained, "and then having good communication, working it out as quick as you can. If we can move........