Once again, Bruins coach Claude Julien has his team playing their best hockey at the right time.
Following a solid 6-3 win over the Islanders Saturday afternoon in Long Island, Tim Thomas showed signs of his Conn Smythe form from last year and carried the Black and Gold to a 2-1 win over the Rangers — for the first time this year — Sunday night at Madison Square Garden. The two victories propelled the hockey club from Causeway Street to their fifth straight playoff appearance, and, more importantly, their third Northeast Division title in five years.
“Anytime you can come in here and get a win [at MSG] to wrap up the division, it’s a good thing,” said Thomas, who made 19 of his 33 saves during the third period in Sunday’s victory. “Theoretically we had plenty of time to get the extra two points, but why wait? We had a chance to seal it up and take all the hope out of Ottawa’s sails. It felt good to be able to do that.”
Funny thing is, the Bruins could have easily been in an opposite position this late in the year after relinquishing the lead in the Northeast to those Ottawa Senators back on March 16th. Prior to that, Boston was caught in a stretch of mediocrity having lost four straight in the middle of March that included two disastrous games against the Panthers and Lightning during their trip to Florida.
But thanks to a recent 7-1-1 stretch that started with a much-needed St. Patty’s Day victory over the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bruins are starting to show signs similar to their Stanley Cup run last year outscoring their opponents, 34-17, in that nine-game stretch.
More importantly, Sunday’s game sent a message to the Broadway Blueshirts just in case the two teams happen to meet in this year’s version of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not bad for a team who could have been fighting for their playoff lives after falling to second in the Northeast during the Ides of March.
“We’ve started playing really consistent hockey and that has us feeling good,” said defenseman Dennis Seidenberg, who returned to the lineup after missing the last two games with a cut on his leg and scored his fifth goal of the year four minutes into the second period on Sunday. “That was our goal tonight; to get a win in the regular season so we could send a message if we meet up with them in the playoffs. It felt good to do that.”
With the division wrapped up, the Bruins have also secured the No. 2 seed in the Stanley Cup playoffs, where they would face seventh seeded Ottawa if the season ended today.
Their focus turns to the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, on Tuesday night at the TD Garden as they look to send another message before the postseason. They will wrap up the season against the Sens on Thursday in Ottawa before hosting the Buffalo Sabres — who could still be fighting for their playoff lives — Saturday afternoon.
There might be nothing left to prove this regular season, but this stretch should be a fine tune up for the Black and Gold before they begin defending Lord Stanley.