March 28th, 2011 by

Bruins clinch playoff berth, enter crucial stretch

(S. babineau/Getty Images) Thomas made 28 saves, including 11 in the third, for his 32nd victory of the season Sunday night

After their 2-1 victory over the Flyers Sunday night, the Bruins have officially clinched a berth — for the fourth consecutive season — in the 2011 Stanley Cup Playoffs. Boston improved to 3-0-1 on the season against Philadelphia and became the fourth team in the Eastern conference to clinch a spot in the postseason.

With the win, the Bruins increased their lead to seven points in the Northeast Division over the Montreal Canadiens. But even though they’ve beaten the Habs in two of the last three meetings, and for that matter have fared well against the top teams in the East, there’s still a concern about their record against the last few teams in the playoff race.

Against the Penguins, Flyers and Capitals — three of the top four teams from the East — the Bruins have compiled an impressive 8-2-2 in 12 games. Against the Lightning, Sabres, Habs and Rangers — currently seeded fifth through eighth — the team hasn’t been as impressive going just 8-6-1 in 15 games, but they still have a chance to improve that record when they face the Blueshirts on April 4th at Madison Square Garden.

Although the Bruins have seemingly snapped out of their slump with victories over the Habs, Devils and Flyers this week, a lot still remains to be seen with this week’s home stand, which begins Tuesday with a matchup against the Chicago Blackhawks — who are currently eighth in the West — and concludes with Toronto Thursday and Atlanta on Saturday. While the Hawks are fighting for their playoff lives, the Maple Leafs and Thrashers have both given the Bruins some problems this season, who are a combined 3-3-2 against the 10th and 11th place teams in the East, respectively.

For that matter, five of the last seven games left on the Bruins’ schedule are against teams who are outside of the top eight in the East, including the last two home games against the last place Senators and 13th place Islanders.

The points are there for the taking, and as crazy as this may sound to some, the last seven games should say a lot about the Bruins’ chances of breaking their 39-year Stanley Cup drought.

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