BOSTON – Don’t look now, but if the NHL regular season ended on Sunday morning the Bruins and Montreal Canadiens would collide in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
That’s a function of a few different things happening (Leafs win, Senators win and an Islanders loss) in Saturday’s full dance card of NHL action, but one of those things was the Bruins winning for the 10th time in their last 13 games. The 2-1 win over the Flyers wasn’t Boston’s best, and it certainly wasn’t the dazzling offensive pyrotechnics show the B’s put on Wednesday when they dropped six goals on the woeful Detroit Red Wings. But the Bruins showed a flair for the dramatic with Drew Stafford’s game-winning goal with 5.6 seconds remaining in the third period, and once again displayed an ability to clamp down defensively in the third period, allowing just four shots on net to a Philly team desperately playing for their own playoff survival.
It was an impressive showing for a Bruins team that’s proving they can win games when they overwhelm opponents with offense, and they can be equally successful in a tight, playoff-style game where the first team to blink loses.
“The message [between the second and third period] mostly was, sometimes you’ve got to win 5-4, sometimes it’s 2-1, and it was shaping up to be a 2-1 game. So let’s accept it, manage the puck, play tight, and if you get an opportunity, let’s make sure we bear down,” said Bruce Cassidy. “We did have some [chances], because we were cleaner in our end, and we managed the puck better. It was just one of those games that, I don’t think we were at our best and you could clearly see that. But we still hung in there and did enough to win.
“Sometimes you just reset, and the mindset of the group, how you can be struggling to find your position and your game in the second period, and then the third you kind of sort it out. That’s leadership in the room. They had a few things to say as well. They know the importance of these games and to find your game, and we did.”
The win over the Flyers coupled with the Islanders loss gives the Black and Gold a three-point cushion for a playoff spot, and a two-point cushion for the third place spot in the Atlantic Division. So it’s a long way from a certainty for playoff hockey in Boston this spring, and the Bruins won’t be going there with their comments anytime soon given the way things have played out the last two seasons.
But it’s easy to see there’s a different kind of confidence with this Bruins group, and it’s got as much to do with how they’re winning games as anything else.
“I think the confidence that we built over the homestand that we’ve had, and winning the games and finding ways, it definitely helps you in the long run to realize you’re a good team,” said Patrice Bergeron. “You just have to believe. Sometimes it’s not always going to be perfect or it’s not always going to happen in the first 20 minutes and you have to work at it. I thought [Saturday night] was a perfect example of that.”
The Bruins now fully believe in their potential and their abilities as a fully-functioning hockey club at this point after the last month of positive results. That should make it all the more interesting when we see how it all plays out for the Black and Gold, and whether we see Claude Julien face his old team as the hockey gods most certainly want it to be.