The Boston Bruins clinched the second seed overall in the 2011-2012 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a 2-1 win over the New York Rangers last night. Coming off that impressive victory, the cross hairs shift onto Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The B's last met the Pens three weeks ago at the Consol Energy Center; a tilt the Bruins would rather soon forget.
There, Pittsburgh physically dominated Boston from the drop of the puck, grabbing a decisive 5-2 victory. The Bruins, already battered, saw Patrice Bergeron, Maxime Sauve and Adam McQuaid all leave with injuries, then defenseman Johnny Boychuk severely rattled by a questionable Evgeni Malkin hit with minutes remaining.
Tomorrow night, the Pens travel to Boston to cap off their season series, and the Bruins hope for a far different outcome. Not only do the B's want to keep their momentum strong heading toward the finish line, but, with their playoff slot cemented, the focus must move to getting healthy and staying healthy for the post season.
The Bruins are healthier than they have been in quite some time, recently getting forward Rich Peverley back from a knee injury, and welcoming Dennis Seidenberg back last night from a leg infection.
That being said, defenseman Adam McQuaid remains day-to-day after suffering a laceration and severe swelling from a Jason Chimera hit four nights ago. Gregory Campbell was sidelined Saturday with a lower body injury after blocking a shot against the Islanders. Also, Tuukka Rask hopes to make it back for the start of the playoffs, nursing a groin injury.
The beauty of last night's win over the Rangers is two-fold.
Firstly, not only can the B's rest easy knowing that they will enter the playoffs in the second seed no matter what, but they have also earned a week of time for recuperation.
Guys like Campbell and McQuaid will have plenty of time heal up before the grind of the postseason begins. Veteran Brian Rolston can grab a breather to ensure a full tank come April 11th. Even captain Zdeno Chara, the team's workhorse can use the time to prime himself for the long haul.
Most importantly, a clinched second seed gives Tim Thomas the much-deserved ability to hand the reigns over to Marty Turco. The 37-year-old, Conn Smythe-winning Thomas has carried a heavy load down the stretch since Tuukka Rask's groin injury one month ago, playing in 14 of the B's last 16 games.
A well-rested, healthy Thomas is imperative for the Bruins' chances to repeat, and with their place in the playoffs assured, Marty Turco should see plenty of ice time this week.
The Bruins have three games remaining, including tomorrow night's matchup with the Penguins. The Pens still have an outside shot at catching the Rangers for the division lead and top seed in the conference.
More importantly, Pittsburgh will look to snap out of a recent funk that has seen them go 2-4 in their last six games. While playing sheltered, "not-to-get-hurt" hockey is often counter-intuitive, the B's should allow their banged up boys the extra time to heal and put Marty Turco to good use.
As tempting as it may be to go full-tilt, with the embarrassing memory of their 5-2 drubbing at the hands of these same Pens fresh in their minds, the B's must keep their eyes on the prize, swallow their pride, and understand that the two points at stake mean nothing anymore. After all, there may very well be a chance for revenge down the road.