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Boston Bruins centre Morgan Geekie celebrates after he scores over Toronto Maple Leafs goaltender Joseph Woll during the first period in Toronto on March 4.Frank Gunn/The Canadian Press

Just when things are going smoothly, the Bruins pop up and haunt the Maple Leafs like Freddy Krueger.

Not those guys from Boston. Please, not again. It is not even the postseason yet but there they were at Scotiabank Arena on Monday beating Toronto like a pinata.

It ended up as a disappointing 4-1 loss for the Maple Leafs, who missed an opportunity to climb within four points of the second-place Bruins in the Atlantic Division.

Pavel Zacha scored twice for Boston, David Pastrnak had three assists and Jeremy Swayman was credited with 32 saves in the triumph. It was Boston’s third victory over Toronto in as many outings during the regular season with a fourth and final looming at TD Garden on Thursday.

It was a night where everything seemed to be tilted in the home team’s favour. Toronto came in with 13 victories in its last 16 games and nine of its previous 10 and had the NHL’s best record since Feb. 13.

Boston had sprung a few leaks lately and won just three of its past 10. That recent hiccup allowed Toronto climb within six points of it. A win over the Bruins on Monday and another three days later could flip the script that has become all too familiar in proceedings between these Original Six rivals.

At one point Boston was in first place and so far ahead it seemed improbable for Toronto to catch up. Then suddenly an unexpected opportunity presented itself.

The Maple Leafs didn’t take advantage of it. They failed to score on four power plays, including one late in the second period where Swayman swatted away a puck floated toward the net by Auston Matthews and stymied Tyler Bertuzzi from inches away, leaving the winger visibly frustrated.

Thursday will be the fourth and final meeting of the regular season between them. The Bruins have won all three so far – once in a shootout, once in overtime and once in a much more definitive performance on Monday.

Things started poorly when Zacha got loose on a breakaway just after the opening puck drop. The Bruins centre fired a shot at Joseph Woll 14 seconds into the game from point-blank range but the goalie turned it away.

Then Morgan Geekie put Boston ahead 1-0 midway through the first period when he tipped in a shot by Pastrnak. It was Geekie’s 14th goal of the season.

The Bruins went ahead 2-0 after Brad Marchand drew a slashing penalty on Jake McCabe. Pastrnak found Zacha wide open in the slot and he netted it with 7:18 left before the first intermission. Toronto had a chance to cut the lead to 2-1 but misfired on a last-minute man advantage that extended over into the second period.

With 14:54 remaining in the second Jake DeBrusk wired a wrist shot past Woll and it was 3-0 and effectively over. It was DeBrusk’s 14th goal and came with assistance from Charlie Coyle and Marchand.

John Tavares, the Toronto captain, made it 3-1 with a goal with 16:08 remaining in the third on a wrist shot that went over Swayman’s shoulder. Morgan Rielly and Ilya Lyubushkin were awarded the assists.

Despite a hard push back, the Maple Leafs got no closer. Zacha scored his second of the contest with 9:25 left.

Woll, who made his second start since returning from an ankle sprain on Dec. 7, had 23 saves in the defeat.

Earlier in the day Sheldon Keefe, the Maple Leafs coach, scoffed when it was suggested to him that the Bruins are struggling.

Afterward, he was even more certain.

“They are the premiere team in the league,” he said. “Every time you play them you expect a tough night. This was exactly what we expected.

“We did good things today but you can’t expect to do good things and beat Boston. You have to do great things.”

The Bruins certainly didn’t look like a team without mojo in this one.

“We just made a few too many mistakes,” Tavares said. “I think they were much better defending around their net than we were.

“When you are playing against good teams the margins for error are very small. This is a good reminder and lesson for us.”

On the good side, Matthews and Bobby McMann each had five shots, although they were unable to beat Swayman. Also, Ryan Reaves and Tavares were each credited with eight hits.

The Bruins have a long history of tormenting the Maple Leafs. Boston knocked them out of the playoffs in 2013, 2018 and 2019.

In the most painful one, in 2013, the Bruins rallied from three goals down in the third period to win Game 7 in a quarter-final matchup.

Now Toronto plays at home against Buffalo on Wednesday and then hooks up with Freddy Krueger again.

Another loss to the Bruins will probably scuttle any chance of forging ahead of them in the regular season. Toronto is 10 back of the division-leading Florida Panthers.

“Some parts of our game were good but we weren’t good enough for 60 minutes,” Calle Jarnkrok, the Toronto forward, said.

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