Senators, Panthers gain on Bruins in tense Wild Card race

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The Boston Bruins can’t afford to have many more nights like this. They certainly held their own against the Ottawa Senators and had more success opposing goaltender Andrew Hammond than any of his previous adversaries, but the Bruins still suffered a 6-4 loss tonight. While that was happening Boston’s only other serious rival in the battle for the second Wild Card seed, the Florida Panthers, earned a 3-1 victory against Detroit.

The Bruins still hold their Wild Card spot, but the Senators are now just two points behind despite having played in one less game. Florida is five points shy of the Bruins.

An obvious case can be made that Ottawa is the bigger threat to the Bruins at this point. Not only are the Senators closer in the standings, but they’ve been unreal lately with a 13-1-1 record beginning with Hammond’s first start of the 2014-15 campaign. The Senators have a great opportunity to continue that hot streak on Saturday against the lowly Toronto Maple Leafs, which they will play an additional two times after that contest.

By contrast, Florida has been largely treading water lately, but the Panthers got starting goaltender Roberto Luongo back tonight from a shoulder injury. He turned aside 25 of 26 shots in his return. Luongo’s return should help the Panthers cause, but more importantly, Florida has a golden opportunity to do direct damage to Boston as its scheduled to play against the Bruins three times in its final 11 games. The first of those meetings will occur on Saturday.

Meanwhile the Bruins have now lost three straight games in what has proven to be a roller-coaster season. They’ve come back from some serious cold streaks already in 2014-15, but they likely can’t afford to endure another with the Wild Card race this tight.

Video: Sens, Bruins get off to wild start with three goals in four minutes

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With just four points dividing the Ottawa Senators and Boston Bruins in the battle for the second Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, it was fair to expect their game tonight to be a good one. Few would have predicted this eventful of a start though.

Kyle Turris needed just 19 seconds to give the Ottawa Senators a 1-0 lead thanks to a juicy rebound surrendered by Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask.

Ottawa didn’t get to enjoy the lead for long as Boston forward Carl Soderberg even the score less than a minute into the contest. Senators goaltender Andrew Hammond, who briefly left the ice just before the start of play due to a minor skate issue, didn’t look particularly good on this one.

Ryan Spooner netted his fourth goal of the season at 4:04 to give the Bruins a 2-1 lead.

Hammond has tied a 76-year-old record by allowing less than three goals in each of his first 12 career starts. If he wants to claim sole possession of that record, he’ll need to be perfect for the remainder of the game.

Of course, given the importance of this game for Ottawa, he doesn’t need to look to the record books to find reasons to stay motivated.

Looking at the Bruins’ remaining schedule

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We did this yesterday for the Kings. Let’s do it today for the Boston Bruins, who still have some work left to make the playoffs.

The B’s woke up this morning in Ottawa just four points clear of the streaking Sens, with the two teams meeting tonight at Canadian Tire Centre. (Ottawa also holds a game in hand on Boston.)

A win tonight would, obviously, be huge for the Bruins. But they’d still, in all likelihood, need to win four or five more of their remaining 11 to make the playoffs…

source:

…and only in that home game against Toronto will the Bruins be heavily favored.

True, the ‘Canes are a bottom-five team and Boston gets to play them. Except the ‘Canes outplayed and defeated the B’s the last time they met in Raleigh. (In fact, that was the performance that preceded Charlie Jacobs’ stinging words.)

Look, chances are, the Bruins are going to make it. They’ve only lost once in regulation in their last 10, and Sports Club Stats has their odds at 70.6 percent. They’re a good team (maybe not as good as they used to be, but still good) and they control their own destiny.

But with just four home games versus eight away, not to mention three sets of back-to-backs, there are certainly no guarantees.

Or, to put it another way, the jury is still out.

Rask sees positives in Bruins already facing playoff-like urgency

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When it comes to the final stretch of recent seasons, the Boston Bruins usually had a playoff spot locked up, using seeding as a source of motivation. This time around, they’re fighting for a wild card berth.

Tuukka Rask doesn’t think that’s such a bad thing, actually, as he told CSNNE.com.

“We’ve got a lot of big games coming up,”Rask said. “It feels like every game is a playoff right now, so when the playoffs come we won’t have to be mentally prepared. Or be scared that we’re going to fold because we won the President’s Trophy and stuff like that. I think we can make this work for us.”

Head coach Claude Julien backed up that notion, arguing that big games can bring out the best in a team.

We’ve certainly seen more of Rask’s best lately, too.

The 28-year-old started the season on a down note – at least according to his lofty standards – especially with just a 4-4-0 record and an usually bad .899 save percentage in October. He’s been looking a lot more like a defending Vezina winner since 2015 came around, something that’s seen most obvious in March: he’s 4-1-1 with an outstanding .952 save percentage.

Maybe pushing that hard can be a little taxing – he already sat out one game this week with “general soreness” – yet it keeps the Bruins and their franchise goalie sharp. One imagines it may be refreshing to play more of an underdog role after a stretch of ranking among the East’s favorites.

All of that said, this CSNNE.com article argues that the Bruins aren’t totally out of the woods just yet:

Along with the general softness across this team’s roster and the intermittent offensive droughts, there are times when the Bruins want things to be easy. It’s a natural human trait, to be sure, but it’s also the sign of a team that doesn’t consistently set the bar high enough. The intensity, desire and compete level of the recently great B’s teams hasn’t been there on most nights.

That column is a reminder that, with all the scrappy talk, the Bruins still face considerable pressure to succeed.

On the bright side, the team and especially Rask seem to be responding to this challenge (at least so far).

Video: Sabres end skid, top Bruins

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Anders Lindback made a season-high 44 saves and Tyler Ennis scored the shootout winner as the Buffalo Sabres upset the Boston Bruins 2-1 Tuesday night.

The win snapped a seven-game winless skid for the Sabres and was Buffalo’s first win over Boston this season (1-1-2).

“I thought we had a lot of chances today to score more goals and win the game,” said Boston’s lone goal scorer Loui Eriksson per NHL.com. “But, yeah, we need to find ways to score those goals too. We create a lot of chances, but when we get that chance we have to really focus to put it in too. That cost us the game. I thought we were the much better team today, and we just need to get better on that.”

Rasmus Ristolainen had the Sabres’ lone goal in regulation.

Boston leads Ottawa by four points for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference and trails the Detroit Red Wings by four points for third spot in the Atlantic Division.

Tuukka Rask was a scratch due to “general soreness”. Claude Julien did not have an update on the goaltender post-game.

Niklas Svedberg made 23 saves in the loss.

The single point the Bruins picked up in the loss officially eliminated the Maple Leafs from playoff contention.