BRIGHTON -- When it comes down to it, it's pretty simple for the Bruins.
If they go out tonight and beat the Tampa Bay Lightning in regulation, they'll clinch their first playoff spot in three seasons. If they don't, the same old questions from the last two seasons will be resurrected . . . not to mention they'll be allowing their playoff fate to come down to the final couple of games of the regular season.
So needless to say, the Bruins will have their game faces on against a Lightning team that's chasing them in the standings. And they'll looking for a much better result than they had a couple of weeks ago, when Tampa Bay handed them a 6-3 defeat at TD Garden.
"That's the position we've wanted to put ourselves in, and we're in that now," said Brad Marchand. "But Tampa has been playing well lately and they're a very good team. We've seen that. So we have to be prepared to have a big game and know it isn't going to be easy. It should be fun. It's going to a playoff-type game with a playoff atmosphere.
"We're in a decent spot where we're at, but what happened the last two years is the last thing we need to be worried about right now. We'll just focus on tonight and what's in our future."
For further motivational fuel, the Bruins can move out of the wild-card spot and stay within their division for the first two rounds of the playoffs -- facing either the Maple Leafs or Senators in the first round -- if they win their final three games. If not, they'll have to play the Capitals in the first round, which would be a near-certain death sentence.
But for now, the focus is on tonight and the Lightning.
"This was our goal when the year started, to get in [to the playoffs]," said interim coach Bruce Cassidy. "We've got a lot of other goals, but that's the first one. We've got to get in. So that's where we are with three games to go and we have that opportunity.
"Guys know what's at stake, so it's about playing the right way and not getting too far ahead of ourselves. We want to have a good first period and that's our focus. We've done a good job of that: Getting out with good energy and on time to put them on their heels. And you make the necessary adjustments if it doesn't go your way. Then at the end of the night if it goes our way then we'll address that."
One thing that's already trending in Boston's favor is Steve Stamkos' inability to return for Tuesday night's game after missing month to injury, and a hobbled Tyler Johnson clearly playing at less than 100 percent. So the Bruins should have enough motivation and advantage to get things done in 60 minutes tonight and end the suspense for an organization that's hoping and pining for playoff hockey.