BRIGHTON, Mass. – The old cliché is that it’s “a four-point game” whenever divisional rivals get together during the regular season.
There’s no question it’s become a phrase that’s lost some of its meaning and oomph along the way with each and every usage, but the basic truth holds true: A regulation win against a direct competitor for a playoff spot is massive each and every time it happens. So a Saturday night matchup against a Buffalo Sabres team the Bruins are tied with in the standings is a big deal for several different reasons.
Both the Bruins and the Sabres are tied with 50 points apiece through 41 games, though the B’s have a three-game ROW (Regulation Overtime Wins) advantage over the Sabres right now. It’s the final time Boston and Buffalo will meet during the regular season, so it’s the last time for either team to try and push the other one down in the Eastern Conference playoff standings.
“They’re important. It’s your best chance to climb up on teams in the division, especially when there are teams above you and you’re chasing them. You can really get it going and control things,” said Torey Krug. “It’s a very important matchup. It’s the last time we play them this season. It will be the last chance to really push them down in the standings, and that’s what we’re looking to do.”
But it’s also one of the last few divisional games that the Bruins are going to have for a while, which means it’s one of the last stretches the B’s will have to create some real movement upward, or downward as the case could be, in the Atlantic Division. The Bruins have just three games against division opponents in January, and only one divisional game in February when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Feb. 28.
In fact, just 10 of the final 41 games in the B’s regular season are against Atlantic Division rivals, so that means there will be limited opportunities to really make big strides when it comes to the divisional race.
“The second half starts [on Saturday], so for us hopefully we’re nailing down our overall game better,” said Bruce Cassidy. “Some of our guys that have been around for a long time might think of Buffalo as the old Buffalo, but things have changed. They’re a good hockey team.
“Maybe we’re seeing a little bit more of [a rivalry]. They’re young guys that are up and coming, and they’re competing for a playoff spot like we are right now. That allows it to be a rivalry right there. Toronto is young. Tampa is young. We play them four times a year, which is a little bit more than some of the other teams. It could be another natural rivalry like the one that used to exist in the old Adams Division. It’s good for hockey when teams are close, geographically or whatever, and they’re going after each other.”
The B’s sit four points behind the Maple Leafs and could conceivably catch up to them with a game against the Leafs in Toronto next weekend, but it’s more about creating space between themselves and both Montreal and Buffalo in the Atlantic Division. It looks like it’s shaping up to be nine teams vying for eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference, and so all the points the B’s can muster against those teams are going to make a difference in the final few games of the regular season.
“We’re pretty much neck-and-neck with [Buffalo] and we understand that they’re a good team coming in. So we just need to treat it as a four-point game,” said Jake DeBrusk. “It’s going to be a hard task. We need to win that game in regulation. We all saw how it happened last year where it came down to the last game of the regular season against a division team. It always helps later on in the season if you can beat these teams.”
So what does all this mean?
It means the Bruins would be wise to have their game faces on when they take the ice for a classic “four-point game” against the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night.
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