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Treliving didn’t tailor Maple Leafs trades to meeting Bruins, Panthers

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Brad Treliving knows too well about all the predatory bears and wildcats lurking on the first-round playoff path.

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But limited by low resources and salary cap constraints, the general manager went into the last hours of the NHL trade deadline with the remaining 19 games on the schedule foremost on his mind, not trying to match or better the final touches the Boston Bruins and Florida Panthers put on their rosters as the final bell sounded.

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In addition to strengthening their bite on the blueline, first with Ilya Lyubushkin nine days ago and Joel Edmundson on Thursday, Treliving added low-cost checking centre Connor Dewar to tick the last box on his limited check list.

Though he insisted any dip in play the last few games prior to the deadline wouldn’t lead to a reactionary trade, consecutive 4-1 losses to Boston had the blue-and-white noise needle in the red. The alternative April opponent is league-leading Florida, looking very much like a Stanley Cup favourite.

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Early Friday, old nemesis Pat Maroon joined the Bruins from the Wild, along with big defenceman Andrew Peeke via Columbus, while winger Kyle Okposo is going to the Panthers.

Maroon was with Tampa Bay when it defeated the Leafs in the 2022 playoffs and on the losing end last season, but his 150 playoff games with three Cups perfectly complement the Bruins. The 6-foot-3 Peake has been in 23 games for the Blue Jackets, while everyone saw Paul Maurice’s Panthers out-muscle the Leafs in last year’s second round.

“If you circle one and say we have to prepare for (that) team … we have to get in the playoffs (first),” Treliving said Friday afternoon. “You get in and they’re all good, no matter who we play. We still have work to do here to get in.

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“There are big moves that happen at this time and small incremental moves. That’s what we’re trying to do, pick away at areas we think we need to improve in.”

Many think it’s a futile exercise, that by April the Bruins will be in the Leafs’ collective head again; if not Brad Marchand’s machinations, then David Pastrnak’s scoring, their proven goaltending or the intangible of their culture. The latter was on full view Thursday when their 2011 Cup team was honoured before they flew out the gate to dominate the Leafs at TD Garden.

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Others would argue Treliving’s new-look Leafs answered the bell in a hostile den, whether it was grizzly Jake McCabe plowing Marchand to the ice or Max Domi and Tyler Bertuzzi in fights. The ornery behaviour came on a back-to-back, with a flu bug running through the team and Edmundson not yet in uniform.

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As for the regular-season record mattering next month, between 2016-17 and ’17-18, the Leafs faced Boston eight times, won seven, but still lost two consecutive playoff series to the B’s, including three elimination games.

The Bruins have lost Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, David Krejci and goalie Tuuka Rask, but have kept on rocking, with seven straight wins versus Toronto since last year. Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly are all in the prime of their career, but have just the one playoff round victory.

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Long-time NHL coach Bruce Boudreau, a guest on TSN’s Trade Centre on Friday, said the Bruins, Lightning, Panthers, Blue Jackets and Canadiens all learned the key at playoff time is extra attention on current NHL leading scorer Matthews.

“Stop Matthews and you stop the Leafs,” Boudreau declared. “The others are good, but he’s like the head of the snake.”

Treliving would not disagree with the need to make his team more well-rounded.

“There are certainly areas we really like, but as with all teams, we’re building our game. We tried to make moves in certain areas.

“We have a group that’s driven, that’s hungry, but we’ve got a month to go to earn a spot and grow our game.”

lhornby@postmedia.com

X: @sunhornby

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