Bruins can clinch playoff spot with regulation victory vs. Lightning tonight

Bruins can clinch playoff spot with regulation victory vs. Lightning tonight

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. 

Morning Skate: Best all-time college hockey lineups

NBC Sports Boston Photo

Morning Skate: Best all-time college hockey lineups

Here are all the links from around the hockey world, and what I’m reading while welcoming in spring with open arms.


*Interesting exercise from ESPN putting together the best all-time lineups for a number of college hockey programs. We know about a lot of the powerhouse programs, but UVM could put together a pretty damn good lineup based on the players that have come out of the Catamounts program, including former and current Bruins Tim Thomas and Kevan Miller.


*Jack Eichel scoffs at the notion that his ankle injury should have caused the Sabres star to shut it down for the rest of the season.


*Nice work by Star Wars Rebels showrunner Dave Filoni to put together a Star Wars jersey again this season for the Wilkes Barre Scranton Penguins.


*Rob Rossi has got some major issues with ESPN the Magazine omitting Sidney Crosby from their Most Dominant Athletes of the last 20 years list. Yeah, I’d say that doesn’t make any sense. Not that anybody really cares about ESPN the Magazine or anything.


*Strange times with the CWHL as Cassie Campbell Pascal has resigned from her role as a CWHL Governor ahead of the league’s marquee weekend.


*The Golden Knights and Marc-Andre Fleury are both tied together in their rise toward the top of the NHL this season.


*For something completely different: Never before has a mustache been talked about as much as the CGI mustache for Henry Cavill in Justice League, and now it’s gone forever.


Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

Donato misses Bruins practice for Harvard class commitment

It might have caused a ripple when Ryan Donato wasn’t on the ice on Tuesday afternoon in St. Louis for Bruins practice on the day after his brilliant, three-point NHL debut for the Black and Gold. But the 21-year-old Donato was still back in the Boston area fulfilling some class requirements at Harvard University to help him close out the current semester properly, and not lose the credits that will keep him in line with fulfilling his junior year at Harvard University.

Believe it or not, the schoolwork is important to the newest member of the Boston Bruins and he intends to study and hit the books on his road trips, and also intends to take classes in the summertime to still graduate on time next season.

“I’m planning on finishing the semester academically. I want to finish the semester academically,” said Donato, after Monday’s morning skate at Warrior Ice Arena prior to last night’s debut vs. Columbus. “Obviously it’s going to be something that’s difficult, but for me it was a dream to graduate from Harvard. I’m putting that off a little bit, but I need to be able to finish this semester in order to have that opportunity, and not put it off for another couple of years. I want to finish out the semester.”

Donato is also still living in the Harvard dorms while “moonlighting” as an NHL hockey player for the rest of the season, but that isn’t all so uncommon among some of the college players that leave school early. Charlie McAvoy was similarly living in the Boston University dorms last spring through Boston’s playoff run, and didn’t clear out of his college living situation until after the Black and Gold had been eliminated by the Ottawa Senators last April.

Missing practices on an NHL schedule is certainly a new one with, Donato, however, and takes the student-athlete concept to a whole new level for somebody that's already turned pro. One has to expect this was one of the things being discussed in full when the Donato family, Ryan's agent and the Bruins discussed his contract terms over the weekend before coming to an agreement.

Along with Donato, who is scheduled to fly into St. Louis and play against the Blues on Wednesday night, Patrice Bergeron, Zdeno Chara, Charlie McAvoy, David Backes, Jake DeBrusk, Rick Nash and Torey Krug were all missing from the ice at Tuesday’s team practice ahead of a four game road trip against Western Conference opponents.