This could be a preview of the first round of the playoffs if things remain as they currently sit in the Eastern Conference. The Bruins spent their first day in a long time with sole possession of first place in the Northeast Division on Wednesday, and will be looking to start building a cushion over Montreal with the remaining eight games. The Isles are just looking to hang on, and have that hunger to stay in the top hockey clubs in order to taste playoffs for the first time.
If the season ended today the Bruins would be hosting the Islanders, and that could present some real challenges to a long established playoff team like the Black and Gold. As it is they’ll be getting a hot New York team that’s won two in a row and taken seven of their last 10 games while pushing their way into playoff contention.
With that in mind the Bruins are wary of just how dangerous the Isles could be, and also of what kind of statement they should be looking to make just in case these two clubs do meet in another Boston/New York playoff series.
“I expect to see desperation. They’re a pretty talented group,” said Rich Peverley, who has four points in his last two games. “You’ve got to take them pretty seriously, or they’re the type of team that will come in and do some damage to you.”
The Bruins have won five out of their last six games, and had some of their heart, courage and toughness put into question when they didn’t respond to Brad Marchand getting elbowed in the head by Devils defenseman Anton Volchenkov on Wednesday night.
If the Bruins still have any of those things they should come out snarling against an Isles team they might just see in a couple of weeks down the road.
PLAYER NEEDING HIS TIRES PUMPED: Tyler Seguin snapped a three game scoreless stretch with the game-winning goal against the Devils on Wednesday night – but has been somewhat muted in his two appearances as a member of Boston’s third line skating with Chris Kelly. He’s also got only two goals and a zero rating along with 17 total shots on net in five games during the month of April while previously living a charmed plus/minus life for most of this season in Boston even amid early offensive struggles.
DRESSING ROOM MANTRA HEADED INTO THE GAME: ““You need to get used to being in ‘playoff mode.’ Being more attuned to the physical end of things and not straying away from our game plan. It’s like a mindset. You get into that ‘playoff mode’ and you have to do it beforehand to get it rolling for the playoffs. You have to get used to playing like that because if not then you’re going to be out in the first round . . . kind of like how we were last year.” –Johnny Boychuk, imploring the Bruins to get into playoff mode headed into the final 8 games of the season.
KEY MATCHUP: It all comes down to stopping Matt Moulson and John Tavares, who have teamed with Brad Boyes to give the Isles a powerful offensive combination capable of exploding on anyone. The Bruins have done a good job of keeping that line in check in the past, but it could be a whole new ballgame as the Black and Gold continue to try to right all of the defensive mistakes they’ve made over the last couple of months.
STAT TO WATCH: 5 – the number of hits for Bruins not named Zdeno Chara or Johnny Boychuk in Wednesday night’s game against the New Jersey Devils that featured Brad Marchand getting tuned up by an Anton Volchenkov elbow.
INJURIES: Forward Patrice Bergeron (concussion) and Brad Marchand (concussion) are out indefinitely with head injuries, though Bergeron has begun skating. Adam McQuaid (shoulder) has become a full practice participant and may return to the lineup tonight vs., the Isles. New York will be missing former BU defenseman Brian Strait (ankle) and Joe Finley (undisclosed), who are both on injured reserve for the Islanders.
GOALTENDING MATCHUP: Tuukka Rask gets the start for the Bruins and has won each of his last three starts while really upping his game between the pipes with some big save performances. Rask has a gaudy .971 save percentage in his last three appearances including a shutout of New Jersey. Evgeni Nabokov gets the start for the Islanders and is 3-0-1 in his last four appearances with a 19-11-4- record and a 2.59 goals against average on the season for New York. He’s helped stabilize what’s been a very erratic goalie situation over the last few years.