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Leafs Mikhail Grabovski (84) and Bruins David Krejci (46) face off during the first period of Game 3 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)
Leafs Mikhail Grabovski (84) and Bruins David Krejci (46) face off during the first period of Game 3 between the Toronto Maple Leafs and the Boston Bruins. (Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)

JEFF BLAIR

Battle being waged in the faceoff circle between Bruins, Leafs Add to ...

That ‘Toronto Stronger’ sign that was all over Twitter and websites and talk shows in Boston?

Bruins head coach Claude Julien wouldn’t go there Tuesday, beyond saying it was unfortunate that “the best and worst,” comes out of the passion surrounding hockey. He had no time for some yahoo in a Toronto Maple Leafs jersey getting his 15 minutes by tastelessly playing off a rallying cry used in the city of Boston after the marathon bombings.

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But the faceoff circle? Why, certainly Julien would go there. With both feet.

Aware that his counterpart with the Maple Leafs, Randy Carlyle, was unhappy with the way his centres – especially Tyler Bozak – were chased out of the faceoff circle in Game 3 of the teams Eastern Conference quarter-final on Monday, Julien said he was watching with interest how Carlyle’s “lobbying” would pay off in Game 4 “without worrying about who’s crying wolf.”

The Bruins were the NHL’s best team in the faceoff circle during the regular season and they’ve won 58 per cent of the draws in this series, including winning 15 more than the Leafs in Monday’s 5-2 win in the second game of the best-of-seven series. That’s a lot of puck possession; that’s a lot of forcing the issue and the way Boston’s Patrice Bergeron sees it, a player can go on a roll in the faceoff circle just like a hitter at the plate.

“It’s like anything, right? When you’re doing good, you feel confident,” Bergeron said. “It starts with the faceoff. It starts with the puck. For a centreman, the faceoff is one of the things that gets you in the game.”

Bergeron won 62.1 per cent of faceoffs taken in the regular season, the best percentage of any player with at least 500 wins. He has won 35 of 60 through three games of the series but teammate Rich Peverley has also been a force, winning all but three of the 23 draws he’s taken after being a healthy scratch in Game 1.

Julien hooked up Peverley with Jaromir Jagr and Chris Kelly and the line was the best on the ice for the Bruins in Game 3.

That, too, started in the faceoff circle and Nazem Kadri was the Leafs centre frequently victimized by Peverley – when he wasn’t being run out of the circle. Carlyle said he asked one of the linesmen between periods to identify the issue.

“Visitor down, home down, puck down,” was what he was told – the visiting forward’s stick must go down first. That’s not how the Leafs coaching staff saw it on videotape of the game. “When you’re home, you think you’ll be afforded some of the staples,” said Carlyle, adding that in some way the issue was moot because there will be new linesmen for Game 4.

The Bruins, the Leafs have been told, have been constantly on the officials about what they see as cheating. Faceoffs … Clay Buchholz’s foreign substance on his arm. What is it about these two cities?

“I don’t know if they were … it’s just one of those things that happens during games,” Peverley said, catching himself in mid-sentence. “It’s a matter sometimes of timing, and if you’re not cheating, you’re not trying. That’s what everybody says, right?”

Jagr was something of an afterthought in the first two games but he wrote himself large all over Game 3, collecting an assist and stationing himself in the Leafs’ end. He gently chided those who wondered if at age 41 he was perhaps not up to the task, suggesting the changes in the NHL mean his skills need to be viewed in a different context.

“You know, it’s funny,” Jagr said. “You hear: ‘He’s older, he’s losing a step and speed.’ In my opinion, I don’t think I lost much. But I’m 240 [pounds] and everybody else in this league is 180. When I played 10 or 15 years ago, everybody was like 230 or 240 pounds. I don’t think I’m so slow for a 240-pound guy. I think I have an advantage on the boards, that I never had before because the defencemen back then were all 6-foot-5 or 6-foot-4. The game has changed and gone to smaller guys. Big advantage on one side … disadvantage on the other.”

Still, none of it means anything without possession of the puck. Every playoff series has its signature battle. This one is being waged in the faceoff circle.

@globlair

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