With three weeks remaining in the 2016-17 regular season, the Bruins have put themselves in a pretty good situation. This week’s slate, however, is unquestionably going to be a turning point.
Of course, in the heat of the playoff race, the B’s will tell you that every game is their most important contest. That same sentiment holds true beginning Monday night in Toronto against the Maple Leafs. Despite three losses against the young and talented Leafs squad, the Bruins hold a three-point edge over Auston Matthews and company for third place in the Atlantic Division.
Their most important game after Toronto? The next night when they return home to face the Ottawa Senators, who hold a four-point edge over the Black and Gold for second place in the Atlantic.
No easy task for the Black and Gold on back-to-back nights especially since they are a combined 0-5 against the two divisional rivals.
“At some point, it has to change right? Especially if you want to be an elite team,” Tuukka Rask said about the Bruins’ lack of success against the Senators and Maple Leafs in 2016-17. “Tomorrow [in Toronto] and Tuesday [against the Sens] are good challenges, and, you know, in order to be one of those good teams, you have to beat the good teams.”
The Leafs and Sens aren’t the only two good teams the Bruins will have to face this week.
Following their back to back that begins tomorrow night in Toronto and concludes Tuesday at home against the Sens, the Bruins have a pair of games against two teams that are on the playoff bubble – the Lightning and Isles.
Since the trade deadline, the Lightning, who come to TD Garden on Thursday night, have surged into the playoff picture. Despite losing their last two games, they sit just two points behind Toronto for the final wild card spot – and five points behind the Bruins, who have taken all three meetings this regular season.
The Islanders have also lost their last two games – both at home – but their overtime loss to the Blue Jackets on Saturday kept them one point behind the Leafs for that final wild card spot. The Bruins conclude their week in Brooklyn on Saturday night looking to avenge two bad Causeway Street losses against the Islanders back in December and January.
Against the four teams this week, the Bruins are a combined 3-7. Past results, however, aren’t anything that Hart Trophy candidate Brad Marchand and the rest of the Black and Gold are concerned about.
“Those games are in the past that, so we’re not really concerned about how we’ve done against them so far,” Marchand said following Sunday’s practice at Warrior Ice Arena.
It’s easier for media and fans to speculate the magnitude of the Bruins’ week ahead. For the players, however, their vision is short-sighted.
That one-game-at-a-time approach has worked well since interim coach Bruce Cassidy took over for Claude Julien over one month ago. With an expected playoff-like atmosphere in four games this week, their approach will obviously be no different.
“It’s a big week, but we have to take it one game at a time. We can’t start looking ahead,” said Marchand. “We’ve been pretty good lately because of the way we prepare for games and prepare for each and every one. So we have to look at tomorrow and look at that game, and hopefully, we play well then look at the next one and go from there.”
“We know [the first two games] are a back to back, but we have to continue looking at it one game at a time,” added David Backes. “We know that we have the Leafs in Toronto tomorrow night, and we know we have to play a really good game against a good team in order to win.”
Nor are Backes and company looking at the recent past, especially coming off their worst loss of the Cassidy era in Edmonton on Thursday night.
“Our last game was probably our first time under Bruce’s helm that we didn’t give ourselves a chance to win the game,” Backes added about the 7-4 loss to the Oilers.
“That’s disheartening on one hand, but on the other hand, you know, we’ve put a lot of good games together and we have to erase that from our memories, learn from a few of the things that we did not do that gave us success in the past. Erase [the loss], throw it away and have a great effort tomorrow night, and then worry about the next one after that.”