Barring an unlikely late-season collapse by either of the current wild dard leaders (Pittsburgh and Detroit), the eight teams that will be in the Eastern Conference playoffs in just over a month seem pretty settled: Washington, the Rangers and the Islanders from the Metropolitan Division then Tampa Bay, Florida and Boston from the Atlantic Division. Still, there is plenty of intrigue left in the Bruins’ (36-23-7) final 16 games since theoretically they could finish anywhere from second in the conference to eighth (ninth-place Philadelphia is eightpoints behind them – although they do have twogames in hand). Obviously, that makes a huge difference with the Capitals (48-13-4) and Lightning (39-22-4) being the two clubs that the B’s most want to avoid for as long as possible in the playoffs.
The B’s are 6-3-1 in their last 10 games and they are coming off a 2-1-1 week-long homestand that was bookmarked by a humbling 4-1 loss to Tampa Bay on Feb. 28 and ended with a 2-1 overtime defeat to Washington on Saturday. In between, the Bruins had an uninspiring 2-1 win over Calgary on Tuesday and a 4-2 victory against the Blackhawks on Thursday that was undoubtedly their finest performance of this strange season.
Overall, head coach Claude Julien (who has tied Art Ross’ Bruins franchise record of 387 regular season wins) was happy with the way that his team had played against the two best teams in the NHL in back-to-back games.
“They followed the gameplans against the different teams and made small adjustments,” Julien said. “We showed that we are capable of playing our game against them.”
Indeed, it was a good sign that they earned three out of a possible four points against the Blackhawks and Capitals, especially at TD Garden, where they have yet to even reach the .500 mark (15-16-4) in 2015-16. Boston will be on the second night of a back-to-back Tuesday at theLightning(7:30, NESN). Keep in mind that the Bruins are still one of the league’s best road teams (20-9-4). The Lightning are playing great (9-1-0 in theirlast 10 games) and they have taken over first-place, while the Panthers (4-4-2) are falling apart after overachieving for most of the season. Tampa Bay is two points ahead of Florida and three points in front of Boston (whichhas played onemore game than both of those teams).
Goaltender Tuukka Rask (28 saves) picked up a loss against Washington but he has seenplenty of positives in his club’s recent outings.
“Our game has tightened up (defensively), we’re playing good hockey,” Rask said. “You can’t always score four or five goals every night.”
The Bruins return to the Garden on Thursday (7 p.m., NESN) to host the Hurricanes (29-26-11) and they’ll take on theIslanders (36-20-7)in Boston for a rare Saturday matinee (1 p.m., NESN).
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate