Boston Bruins left wing Daniel Pallie, right, celebrates a goal by teammate Mark Stuart off Toronto Maple Leafs goalie Vesa Toskala, left, of Finland, during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Boston, Thursday Dec. 10, 2009. (THE ASSOCIATED PRESS/Charles Krupa)
BOSTON - The Boston Bruins chose not to worry about how they almost blew a three-goal lead. Instead, they celebrated the way they regained control of the game.
Mark Recchi scored twice in the final three minutes, and Tuukka Rask stopped 32 shots as Boston squandered most of a three-goal lead and held on to beat the Toronto Maple Leafs 5-2 on Thursday night.
"Three-goal leads are the worst," Recchi said. "We were OK for two periods. In the third they came out and we weren't ready for it. It's nice that we responded after they did come back."
Mark Stuart, Derek Morris and David Krejci scored to give the Bruins a 3-0 lead after two periods. Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin had goals in the third to cut Toronto's deficit to 3-2, but Recchi scored with 2:37 to play and then added an empty-netter with 12 seconds left to clinch it.
Vesa Toskala made 29 saves for Toronto, which has lost seven straight to Boston, including a 7-2 defeat on Saturday night.
"We've only got one win in our division, which is awful," Leafs defenceman Ian White said. "We got spanked by these guys not even a week ago. We were expecting to come in here and have a different showing. It's unfortunate. It could be a number of factors, I'm not exactly sure what the problem is but we have to find ways to win."
The Bruins improved to 8-1-1 in the last 10 games and took over first place in the Northeast Division.
It was the second time in six days Boston took a big lead on the Maple Leafs and former Bruins forward Phil Kessel, who signed with Toronto as a restricted free agent in the off-season. On Saturday, the Bruins scored the first seven goals and coasted.
This time, Toronto cut the deficit to 3-2 before giving up a late power play when Jason Blake was called for high-sticking with 4:01 left.
The Bruins put pressure on, bouncing the puck in front of the net, but Recchi and Krejci failed to put it in until it went wide to Blake Wheeler. He passed it back into the slot where Recchi redirected it in to make it 4-2.
Recchi added an empty netter in the closing seconds.
"The third period we went back on the attack and did the things we needed to do," said Toronto coach Ron Wilson, who complained about penalties that weren't called. "Obviously, scoring 18 seconds in got our team fired up and them back on their heels a little bit so it opened up the game."
Just as they did on Saturday, when the Bruins dominated in Kessel's first visit, the crowd booed him virtually every time he touched the puck. At least one fan in the crowd wore a Kessel T-shirt, but the name and number on the back had been X'd out.
But Kessel, who declined to talk after the game, was scoreless for the second time in two games against the Bruins.
"That's what we've got to do, take away their best players," Krejci said. "We did a good job of that tonight."
Toronto made it 3-1 just 18 seconds into the third period when Blake shot the puck across the net, and Grabovski slammed home the rebound. Kulemin cut the deficit to one goal, deflecting a shot in from the side of the crease.
Bruins coach Claude Julien called a timeout, and his players responded.
"It was about settling them down and making sure we didn't panic," said Julien, who commended his players for avoiding the distraction of their former teammate's return. "I think our guys handled it well. 'Kesselmania' and all that stuff. I thought we were playing hockey not wrestling."
The No. 5 overall pick in the 2006 draft scored 36 goals last season - and a total of 66 in his first three NHL seasons but he couldn't come to terms with the Bruins.
Boston general manager Peter Chiarelli said Kessel had told the Bruins he wanted to play elsewhere and traded him to Toronto for two first-round draft picks and a second-rounder.
NOTES: Rask has not lost in regulation since Nov. 16. ... Bruins forward Byron Bitz was sick and didn't play. ... The Bruins are 10-0 when leading by two goals at any point. ... Toronto has allowed 12 goals in its last 30 time short-handed. The Bruins have killed 16 straight power plays against them. ... The Bruins controlled the game from the start when Blake was sent off 16 seconds in with a double minor for high-sticking.