BRIGHTON, Mass – After struggling in a home-and-home series against the Maple Leafs a couple of months ago, the Bruins get another crack tonight at the team they’re most likely to meet in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
“We know they are a fast team and they play hard with a good team structure, but I think it’s about us, how we have to play and how we have to go out there and execute,” said Bruins captain Zdeno Chara, who has had his share of challenges against the young, speedy Maple Leafs attack over the last couple of seasons. “Right now we’re playing the regular season, so we take care of the game tonight and then whatever happens three months from now then that’s what we’ll have to do then.”
Certainly, the Bruins might be able to catch the Atlantic Division-leading Tampa Bay Lightning given that they’re just five points behind with two games in hand, but it sure feels like the Bruins and Leafs are going to be the second- and third-place teams in the division. That’s what happens when both teams, coming out of the NHL All-Star break, have at least a 15-point cushion on the rest of a humdrum pack in the division.
That would mean they would see each other in the first round and that the remaining 30-plus games this season will be about both teams vying for home ice in the first round. The Bruins weren’t going there knowing they still have 33 games to go and three games against Tampa Bay with a decent chance of overtaking them, but they were quick to admit some positive results would be ideal vs. a Toronto team that’s beaten them in each of their past seven meetings, including each of the past four B’s/Leafs games at TD Garden.
“I wouldn’t look at this game and say this is a preview for three months [down the line] because a lot of things can happen,” said Bruce Cassidy. “But the fact that they’re right besides, yes we want to stay ahead of them. I’m sure they want to catch us because we’re next in line for them. So in that regard, it’s important, and because of the fact that we haven’t had much success against them, it’s important.
“I think at some point you want to show you can beat any team in this league, and until we do it we’ve got to prove it. Those are the reasons why it becomes more important [as one game] than more so what might happen down the line.”
No matter what the outcome of Saturday night’s game at TD Garden, the Bruins will have one more date with Toronto in their building on Feb. 24 while potentially send that lasting message prior to any theoretical playoff meetings.