In a week filled with three so-called “must-win games” that began with two brutal setbacks, the Bruins (40-28-8) snapped a five-game losing streak by picking up a crucial 3-1 victory on Saturday at Toronto’s (27-36-11) Air Canada Centre. After returning from an 0-3 road trip to California, Boston put their playoff hopes in serious jeopardy by losing 5-2 on Wednesday at Madison Square Garden vs. Rangers (43-24-8) and falling 4-1 to the Panthers (42-24-9) on Thursday at TD Garden. The cliché of your best players stepping up at the biggest moments was the story for the B’s against the Maple Leafs as Patrice Bergeron and Zdeno Chara each scored a goal, David Krejci had two assists, Tuukka Rask made 25 saves while Matt Beleskey (assist, 4 hits and 3 blocked shots) put together a nice all-around performance capped off by the empty-netter that sealed it.
“We played better, it’s as simple as that,” said Chara. “You can’t really pick one thing that we did better than in all of those other games (during the losing streak). We were tighter defensively, better offensively, stronger on pucks and more physical. I thought we had a good, strong 60-minute game.”
Saturday was a good day for the Black and Gold from start to finish as earlier that afternoon, Detroit (37-27-11) got blown out 7-2 by Pittsburgh (41-25-8). Boston’s win combined with the Red Wings loss left the Bruins three points ahead of Detroit (who still has a game in hand) for third-place in the Atlantic Division and also three points ahead of Philadelphia (36-25-13) who lost 2-1 at Arizona (34-34-7) on Saturday night and is clinging to the second Wild Card spot behind the Islanders (40-25-9). Boston is three points behind Tampa Bay (43-27-5) and five points behind Florida but both of their divisional foes still have a game in hand on them. There are six games remaining in the regular season for the B’s: three more left on this road trip and then they conclude things with a three-game homestand. Toronto is the worst team in the NHL so nothing less than two points would have been an acceptable result for Boston.
“We needed to play with more energy and more confidence and do the right things,” explained Bruins head coach Claude Julien about Saturday’s main focus. “It slowly came around and after a while, you started to see our old team.”
Tuesday’s (7, NESN) contest at New Jersey (36-31-8) should carry a similar label since the Devils are all but officially eliminated from playoff contention and their All-Star goaltender Cory Schneider is out for the season. Friday’s (8, NESN) game at St. Louis (45-22-9) and Sunday’s (12:30, NBC) matinee at Chicago (43-25-7) at least on paper look like their toughest matchups that they have left by far. Stealing a point or two in either of those meetings would be a bonus.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter @RichSlate