Bruins blank Buffalo, keep heat on Leafs

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Look, it’s still December, so the Bruins would be getting ahead of themselves if they’re already thinking about playoff seeding.

Let’s look ahead a little bit for them, then: with the way things are looking in the Atlantic Division, it seems like the Tampa Bay Lightning might be untouchable on the top, but then the second seed may very well come down to Boston or their buddies, the Toronto Maple Leafs.

(That’s not to discount everyone else, particularly not their best buddies in the Montreal Canadiens.)

With that in mind, a round of home-ice advantage isn’t an outrageous goal for the Bruins to shoot for. At minimum, they’re putting themselves in a good position to gain a playoff spot without sweating things into the end of the regular season, so nights like these could help.

Also helpful: a backup goalie who’s playing more like a 1A/1B, as Anton Khudobin continued his solid play with a 36-save shutout of the Buffalo Sabres, as the Bruins won 3-0.

That margin of victory was far smaller than the scoreboard would indicate, as Boston tacked on two empty-net goals at the end. Instead, Jake DeBrusk‘s Gatorade-launching, fantastic snipe was the only goal of the game where a netminder was actually in place.

Impressive. Also impressive: the Bruins lately, as they’re 5-1-1 in their last seven games. They’ve also been strong in a broader sense, as they’re now 17-10-5; consider how much dimmer things looked for the B’s on Nov. 15, when they fell to 6-7-4.

Again, the Bruins have a shot at surpassing the Maple Leafs, at least eventually. Here’s where the Atlantic’s second and third seeds stand after each squad won on Tuesday:

Maple Leafs: 21-13-1, 43 points in 35 games

Bruins: 17-10-5, 39 points in 32 games

Yes, Toronto has a four-point lead against Boston, but the Bruins hold three games in hand. As this post notes, the Maple Leafs face a harsh end to December, so it’s possible that the gap could really narrow as 2018 rapidly approaches.

From the Sabres’ perspective, this was a solid all-around effort, as the Bruins rarely got anything easily (aside from a near-own-goal, as Zach Bogosian has to feel pleased to avoid the wrath of Robin Lehner, narrowly). Still, they fell short once again, adding frustration to a consistently frustrating 2017-18 campaign.

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.