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Maple Leafs, Bruins expect physical affair; Thornton says puck could be optional

Toronto Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri (43) reaches for the puck past Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston on Monday, March 25, 2013. Leafs coach Randy Carlyle talked about showing the Bruins respect but not being in awe of them.Toronto centre Kadri went one better, calling the first-round playoff matchup a \

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Toronto Maple Leafs' Nazem Kadri (43) reaches for the puck past Boston Bruins' Patrice Bergeron during the first period of an NHL hockey game in Boston on Monday, March 25, 2013. Leafs coach Randy Carlyle talked about showing the Bruins respect but not being in awe of them.Toronto centre Kadri went one better, calling the first-round playoff matchup a \"very, very winnable series for us.\" THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP-Winslow Townson

BOSTON - The nose is all the proof you need that Shawn Thornton doesn't work at a desk.

Thornton's nose has a depression, as if, while under construction, someone left a thumbprint on it. A pair of red welts on his forehead is further proof that the hard-headed Boston winger likes to mix it up.

He should get his wish against Toronto.

"The playoffs, the first few games, the puck's usually optional for the first few shifts," he told reporters Wednesday prior to Game 1. "I was watching a few periods (Tuesday) night in the West, it was no different.

"Every year we kind of bring up the same thing but it's true. I'm sure it will be a physical affair for the first little while until everyone settles down and gets into the groove."

Leafs coach Randy Carlyle also expected a hard-hitting affair.

"The pace of the game will be as high as it's ever been," he said. "There will be bodychecks thrown, there will be bodies that will be projected into one another.

"It's going to be that type of atmosphere to start the game. It always is. The first-round series historically has been the most aggressive and that's what we're expecting. We're expecting the Boston Bruins to come out and try to hit and we expect the Toronto Maple Leafs to come out and try to hit.

"It's a physical series, a physical game."

Both Carlyle and Boston counterpart Claude Julien said their players needed to be physical but disciplined.

Wednesday's game marked the first post-season meeting of the Original Six rivals since 1974.

Carlyle talked up the fourth-seeded Bruins, within reason.

"We know that we're playing a very good hockey club, a veteran hockey club that's been in the wars before. And we're going to respect them but we're not going to be in awe of them."

Toronto centre Nazem Kadri went one better.

"Obviously we understand that we could be the underdogs, but the way we see it is that we've beaten this team already this year," said Kadri. "We only finished four or five points behind them, it was a tight stretch towards the end. Obviously they're a good team, we've got to give them respect, but at the same time we're not approaching this as underdogs.

"This is a very, very winnable series for us."

First-line Leafs centre Tyler Bozak, who missed the last two games with an upper-body injury, said he felt fine ahead of the game.

"Things are getting better every day," he said cheerfully.

Thornton, 35, was drafted by the Leafs back in 1997 in the seventh round, 190th overall.

"Those were fun days," he said. "I remember, being from Oshawa, getting drafted by them was a pretty big deal."

"I was a little but awe-struck my first couple of years there," he said of his time in Toronto's training camp.

He spent four seasons with Toronto's AHL team in St. John's before moving on to Chicago, Anaheim and then Boston.

In 495 games, Thornton has 33 goals, 47 assists and 832 penalty minutes. He is a six-foot-two, 217-pound chunk of sandpaper who always enjoys playing Toronto.

For the fifth-seeded Maple Leafs, it's their first time in the post-season since losing to the Philadelphia Flyers in the second round of the 2004 playoffs.

The Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup in 2011, were eliminated in the first round by the Washington Capitals last season.

Boston has had the better of the regular-season matchup in recent years and won three of four against the Leafs this season. But three of the games were decided by one goal with the other going to a shootout.

"Everybody automatically favours us, but they're a different team this year," Boston GM Peter Chiarelli said in a conference call earlier this week. "They've added to their size. They've added a couple of bangers in the back end. Kadri has really come into his own, Phil (Kessel) has had a good year, (Joffrey) Lupul has had a good when he's healthy, so these guys, they're a different team. I think it's going to be a real emotional and physical series, and we got to play them heavy like we can."

History favours Game 1 winners in the playoffs.

In best-of-seven series, the Game 1 winner has gone on to win the series 68.4 per cent (405 to 187) of the time in NHL history.

NOTES—Toronto has won eight of 13 playoff series against Boston but lost the last three. The last Toronto win was in 1959 when the Leafs rallied from an 0-2 deficit to win in seven games ... Bruins veteran forward Jaromir Jagr is the only current player on either team who was born when the two Original Six franchises played their last playoff game on April 14, 1974. Going into Wednesday's contest, Jagr had played 180 NHL playoff games. The entire Leafs roster had combined for 196.

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