Believe it or not, the Bruins are more than halfway through the 2013-14 regular season and there are 37 games remaining until the playoffs start in mid-April. Of more immediate urgency, Boston (29-14-2) has just 12 games (seven home, five away) left until the nearly three-week long break for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi (they’ll have five players heading to Russia). This important segment of the schedule begins Tuesday (7 p.m., NESN) with a very winnable game against the Maple Leafs (22-20-5), who had lost four games in a row before beating New Jersey 3-2 in a shootout on Sunday.
Last week was a very difficult one for the Bruins: they played three games in California against some of the top teams in not only the Western Conference but the NHL. Boston lost 5-2 in Anaheim on Tuesday and 4-2 in Los Angeles on Thursday. To lose in San Jose on Saturday wouldn’t have been disastrous but for a team with designs on earning a top seed in the Eastern Conference (they are currently second behind Pittsburgh and leading the Atlantic Division), another loss could have stung. Instead, the Bruins pulled out one of their better victories of the season, 1-0, against the Sharks who had only lost once in regulation at the SAP Center before that setback.
Tuukka Rask (22-11-2, .930 save percentage, 2.06 GAA) should never lack confidence since he is one of the top goaltenders in the world, but more than perhaps any other player on the Bruins, he needed a great performance like he turned in on Saturday, with 26 saves for his NHL-leading fifth shutout of the season. For the first time in 2013-14, he was scuffling having lost three of his last four starts, including giving up a season-high five goals against the Islanders on New Year’s Eve and against the Ducks. Still, with Rask probably starting for Finland at the Olympics and tied for third in the NHL in games started (36), the B’s have to find a way to not wear down their franchise goaltender before the games really matter in the spring.
Loui Eriksson (concussion) and Shawn Thornton (suspension) both returned in the Anaheim game after having missed the past 15 games for various reasons. With them back in the lineup, Boston gets more of the depth that they used to have before the endless amount of injuries the last few months. Justin Florek and Mark Fraser showed signs of being decent NHL players but now they are rightfully back in Providence where they can have more (ice) time to grow and develop. If he can stay healthy, a big if with two concussions already suffered this season, Eriksson needs to produce more to start to justify Boston’s trade to Dallas involving Tyler Seguin (21 goals, 20 assists) who predictably with a change of scenery has become the impact player that the Bruins always envisioned.
Follow Metro Boston Bruins beat writer Richard Slate on Twitter: @RichSlate