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No excuse for Bruins to not make 2017 NHL playoffs

Frank Vatrano #72 of the Boston Bruins celebrates a goal that was later disallowedGetty Images

Only the Bruins (39-30-6) could transition from safely in the Eastern Conference playoff picture to not in control of their own fate anymore in the matter of a week.But that’s exactly what happens when you lose four games in a row (all in regulation) like they did last week.

Boston finally regained a bit of positive momentum over the weekend though as it pulled out a huge 2-1 win at Barclays Center over the Islanders (35-27-12). The winput them back in the second wild card spot. New York came into that matchup technically tied with Boston but ahead on a tiebreaker since it had won the season’s first two meetings (both at TD Garden) and also possessed a game in hand.

If you didn’t see that one, you’d probably be shocked to know that the two best players in Boston’s most vital two points of the season were journeyman forward Riley Nash (twogoals in his third career NHL multi-goal performance) and backup goaltender Anton Khudobin (6-5-1) who made 18 saves in his fifth straight victory. Tuukka Rask (33-20-4) was out with a mysterious lower-body injury but he was back at practice on Monday and claimed he’d be able to play the rest of the campaign. For a guy with only 15 points on the season (7 goals, 8 assists), Nash has stepped up at the right time as he had a goal and assist in Thursday’s 6-3 loss at the Garden to Tampa Bay (36-29-9). He followed that up with his best outing as a Bruin.

“We got back to playing stingy, especially in the neutral zone denying their speed,” explained Bruins center Patrice Bergeron. “They want to get the puck into the zone without having to dump it too many times. We were trying to deny that and limit their speed. We got away from that the last few games and tonight it was good to be back playing the way we want to play: a low-scoring game like we’re used to.”

If the B’s should miss the postseason for the third straight spring, the schedule down the stretch will not be a crutch for them to lean on. Of their seven remaining games, they are only away from the Garden once more (this Sunday in Chicago). The six home contests are a mixed bag of contenders (Washington, Nashville and Ottawa), a team hanging on in the playoff race (Tampa Bay) and two playing out the string (Dallas and Florida). Interim head coach Bruce Cassidy (13-7-0 overall since taking over) personally has plenty at stake as well, since he needs to avoid the two most recent late-season collapses of his predecessor - Claude Julien - if he wants to earn that extension that seemed inevitable just a few weeks ago.

Center David Krejci (21 goals, 29 assists) exited practice early on Monday with an upper-body injury but Cassidy said “I believe he’ll be fine [Tuesday].” The Bruins host the Predators (38-25-11) on Tuesday (7, NESN) and Nashville is in a somewhat similar position in the Western Conference - hanging onto third-place in the Central Division.

 
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