-- The Boston Bruins
haven't clinched a playoff berth yet, but the team is treating Thursday's game against the Buffalo Sabres
as if it already were playing in the postseason.
With just three regular-season games remaining, Thursday's game (7 p.m. ET, VERSUS) is a must-win situation for the Bruins.
The Bruins enter the game seeded eighth in the Eastern Conference with 85 points, one point ahead of the ninth-place Rangers. A Boston win would vault them ahead of the idle Flyers, who are in seventh, one point ahead of the Bruins.
"We know what every win means to our hockey club right now and tonight is no different," Bruins coach Claude Julien
said. "I think the scenario is made up right now where we have to win some hockey games, and again, it's too dangerous to rely on other people to do your job."
But a win won't be as easy as it looks. Recent injuries have taken their toll on the Bruins. Boston's top playmaker, Marc Savard
, won't play again this season due to a concussion and its defense took a huge blow Wednesday when it was announced that Dennis Seidenberg
would be out for eight weeks following surgery to repair a lacerated tendon in his left forearm. Defenseman Mark Stuart
also is out, recovering from a bout of cellulitis, while fellow defenseman Andrew Ference
remains day-to-day with a hernia.
To make things even more interesting, Zdeno Chara
, who will play Thursday against the Sabres, had minor surgery to repair his nose, which was broken during Monday's game against the Capitals. But Chara, who will be sporting a full-face mask, isn't fazed by the injuries.
"We have to give it all we have, and obviously injuries do happen, which is very unfortunate for us that they're happening in this time of the year for us," Chara said. "We can't be feeling really sorry about it. We just have to move forward and obviously go after our goal and make it in the playoffs."
Sabres coach Lindy Ruff
understands the Bruins' late-season injury issues, as his team is missing forwards Tim Connolly
(foot) and Thomas Vanek
(lower body), while back-up goaltender Patrick Lalime
and captain Craig Rivet
have been battling illnesses.
"I think if we look across the hallway here, they are in the same situation. A lot of them have cropped up here at the end," Ruff said. "There's always concern where key personnel go out of your lineup and you're making adjustments. It's a tough time of the year, but at the same time, you hope it's short-term and you hope you can get through."
In the case of the Buffalo, which already has clinched the Northeast Division title, Thursday's game is chance to work out the kinks for their playoff run.
"I don't want us to going off path. We have a narrow line we want to stay along and we want to play a real good brand of hockey," Ruff said. "We're just going to focus on how we're playing. There is a game and I want our team to get better. We mentioned penalties -- the few you take, the better you are. Our play with the puck in the offensive zone, in the neutral zone and when we don't have it, how good we are with the puck to frustrate teams."
The Sabres also are very much aware of what's at stake for the Bruins.
"They're a desperate team, they need the points," Sabres right wing Jason Pominville
told NHL.com. "They are still in a battle where lots of things can happen, so you expect them to come out hard, which they usually do at home anyway, but maybe even harder. They are a physical, fast team, so we expect them to be physical and fast."
This game also could preview a potential first-round playoff matchup.
"Yeah, it could happen," Pominville said. "There are still quite a few teams that are in that race. There are three or four teams that can easily be switched around positions so, it could happen. They are a good team, so no matter who we'll end up playing, it will be a tough matchup."
But before that can happen, Boston will have to take one of the three remaining playoff spots remain the East. Injured or not, the Bruins must secure some points in the next few days to make that happen.
"I think we all have to take responsibility and give more," Chara said of what the Bruins need to do to win. "When you have guys coming down with injuries that means we all have to step up and take up on that challenge. It's a team game, so we all have to take responsibility."