Five biggest games facing the Bruins down the stretch
5) Thursday, April 7 vs. Detroit Red Wings
Given the desperation in Detroit’s situation and the shifting sands of pole position within the Atlantic Division, this could be a nasty contest against competitors like Niklas Kronwall and Pavel Datsyuk playing like cornered animals. Undoubtedly, Claude Julien would love to take a page out of Paul Holmgren’s book and lock speedy, skilled rookie Dylan Larkin in a bathroom for a couple of hours while the game is going on. But that won’t be happening even with the home ice advantage in Boston. Ultimately this could be a bit of sweet payback for the Bruins after the Red Wings dropped six goals on them at Joe Louis Arena last month when Patrice Bergeron was missing from the Black and Gold lineup.
4) Sunday, April 3 at the Chicago Blackhawks
The late season Sunday noon-ish start at the Madhouse on Madison has become an annual tradition for the Bruins, and last season it marked one of the few highlight moments in the second half of the year. Ryan Spooner, Milan Lucic and David Pastrnak exploded offensively in that game as a line together, and the Bruins once again teased that they might be okay down the stretch. It will be different circumstances this time around, but also a chance for the Bruins to measure themselves properly this time against the Blackhawks. The game earlier this month was Chicago on fumes in the second night of back-to-backs while starting a subpar Scott Darling, and the Bruins managed to strong-arm the Hawks in that game. It will be a different story this time around with the Bruins rolling into Chicago for a Sunday matinee, and facing a Blackhawks team going through final tune-ups before a long playoff run. Certainly Patrick Kane will be more than a shell of himself this time around.
3) Wednesday, March 23 at the New York Rangers
It’s always a big game when Boston and New York get together for an Original Six matchup, and this might just have potential playoff ramifications if the Bruins can gain separation as the top seed in the Atlantic Division. There’s still a chance these two could be first round opponents if the Blueshirts really hit the skids to end the season, but instead this will be one last chance for the Black and Gold to show they belong with some of the best that the Metro Division has to offer. If past history serves as any guide, this will be a one goal game and Tuukka Rask will have a strong game against the Rangers. The Blueshirts might just be the team with the greatest chance to topple the Capitals if the B’s can somehow keep advancing.
2) Saturday, March 19 at the Los Angeles Kings
This will be the biggest statement game of the season for the Bruins after Milan Lucic and the Kings rolled into Boston, and dropped nine goals on the Black and Gold in one of their worst home losses in decades. The Kings are big, strong, heavy and deep in offensive talent, and have proven big game performers in Lucic, Drew Doughty, Jonathan Quick, Anze Kopitar and Jeff Carter among others. The Bruins have had a nice run of beating playoff-caliber teams since the trade deadline, but most people won’t truly buy into what the B’s are doing until they see how Boston stacks up against a grizzled, proven and deep club like Los Angeles. It would be one thing for the Bruins to avoid another embarrassing loss in their barn, but it would be something completely different to take the fight to the Kings, and then beat them to make their own late season statement.
1) Thursday, March 24 against the Florida Panthers
The Bruins didn’t play great in beating the Panthers 5-4 in their building earlier this month, and had a rough defensive outing where they were bailed out by Tuukka Rask. The Panthers weren’t much better no-showing in the first period, and then watching youngsters like Aaron Ekblad struggle big time under the pressure of important games down the stretch. This could be a recurring theme for a Panthers team that’s extremely short on playoff experience among their younger players, and is really counting on veterans like Jaromir Jagr, Shawn Thornton, Willie Mitchell and Roberto Luongo to help them out in big game situations. Depending on what happens with Tampa Bay in the next couple of weeks, this could be the game that decides first place in the Atlantic Division. Or it could be the game that sets these two clubs up for a first round series against each other. One thing is a sure thing: Luongo will probably have to change out his goalie underwear at some point during the game, as is customary for every one of Bobby Lou’s eventful trips to TD Garden.