They pretty much had to be. Given that Detroit, Pittsburgh and Ottawa were all in game action — and given that Boston entered Tuesday night neck-and-neck with all of those teams for just three playoff spots — they couldn’t help but check in on the scores every once in a while.
“I watched a couple of periods [of the Ottawa game], yeah,” Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien said with a smile. “Had to go back to the hotel because it’s important to get our rest, too, but that third period wasn’t what I expected. At the same time, I continue to say the same thing: We control our own destiny.
“It’s up to us to do our jobs, and if we do our jobs, we’ll be fine.”
Ottawa’s matchup against the Penguins certainly carried implications for the Bruins. If the Penguins had won, they would have clinched a playoff berth, and the Senators’ Tragic Number would have dwindled from four to two.
Instead, the Senators overcame a 3-0 first period deficit to defeat the Penguins 4-3 in overtime. It took a Mike Hoffman goal with just 1:48 remaining in regulation, but they got the job done, as has seemingly been customary lately.
With the win, the Senators pulled even with Boston in points, though the Bruins have the game in hand — which will be played on Wednesday night in Washington — so the B’s held on to the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference.
Meanwhile, Detroit — which earned a comeback win of its own, 3-2 over the Hurricanes — re-staked their claim over third place in the Atlantic Division.
As it stands, the Bruins are two points behind Detroit, one point behind Pittsburgh and even with the Senators heading into Wednesday night’s tilt against the Caps. The implications are obvious: The Bruins need a win to stay in the playoff picture, making a victory over Washington a necessity.
But every game for the last few weeks has been a must-win, in Boston’s eyes. Wednesday’s is no different.
“I think we’re just focused on tonight,” said defenseman Adam McQuaid following Boston’s morning skate at the Verizon Center. “If we do the job tonight, then we’ll see where we’re at from there. It’s kind of how we’ve been approaching things for the last 15, 20 games: We’ve been in the same situation, really, and again, it’s one of those things where if we do what we need to do and we get the results, that’s all we can do. Then, we see where we’re at from there.
“It’s a tight race right now, and that’s going to be important — we don’t want to leave ourselves in a position with necessarily a must-win the last game of the year. It’s important to make sure we’re focused on this game, and then we’ll worry about the rest from there.”
Of course, that is easier said than done, with such a tight race playing out in the conference standings.
“I’ve kind of been just checking in at the end of the night to kind of see [who won],” McQuaid said. “When it’s kind of a regular thing, you usually try and keep track of what’s going on around the league, but ultimately, we control our own destiny. I mean, we don’t want to be relying on other people, so if we do our job and we get ourselves where we need to be, that’s all we can do.”
Regardless of who has been winning and who has been losing, the Bruins have maintained that in every game for the last two weeks and in every game from here on out, getting two points is critical. Boston has managed to do just that in each of its last five games. They have not lost in regulation since March 22, when they dropped a 5-3 contest at the hands of the Lightning. The urgency has been there for the last handful of games, and it will need to remain if the Bruins want to be in playoff position come Saturday, the final day of the regular season.
“We're winning some hockey games, especially lately,” said forward David Krejci. “So we have three games left, we know where we're at, and we have to take it game by game. [It] starts tonight. Get two points, and move on.”
The Bruins will face no easy feat on Wednesday night — not only because of the pressure of the playoff race, but also because they have been unable thus far in 2014-15 to solve the Capitals, and particularly Braden Holtby. Boston has yet to score on the Caps netminder this season, so Wednesday night will be all about getting off to a good start and kicking off this back-to-back the right way.
“Every game is still so important,” said forward Reilly Smith. “We're not out of the woods by any means. A lot of teams behind us won last night, and they can jockey up the standings pretty quick, so every game's really important, and you need every point right now.”
The road doesn’t get any easier after Wednesday. Postgame, the Bruins will head right to Sunrise, Fla., to face the Panthers, and after that, they close out with a practice day in Tampa Bay on Friday, followed by the regular-season finale on Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. against the Lightning.
The Panthers may be out of the playoff hunt, but given the way they have played the Bruins this season — Boston has eked out a mere 6-5 goal differential in three games against Florida thus far — a win will still be difficult to come by.
And obviously, facing the third-best team in the conference in Tampa on Saturday night will be a battle in itself.
This is a situation Boston is not necessarily used to. Last season, they had a playoff berth sewn up in early April, and after a historically brilliant month of March, they breezed their way to the Presidents’ Trophy.
But they also saw, once the playoffs began, that winning the Presidents’ Trophy, while a nice accomplishment, didn’t mean a thing. That is why they will savor this final stretch — this race to the finish and the excitement that accompanies it — as best they can.
“[This] is obviously what you want to be a part of; you don’t want to be on the other end of it,” said forward Brett Connolly. “This is a fun time of the year. Ottawa’s pushing and pushing, and we’ve won five in a row, so it seems like every team’s winning.
“For all of us like that, we’re all going to control our own destiny, and you’ve got to keep winning in order to get in. We knew it wasn’t going to be easy with the last seven games, so it’s a lot of fun here coming down the stretch.”
Added McQuaid, “I think you have to embrace it, and enjoy it. … It’s playoff hockey right now for us, so we have to bring our best effort, and at the same time, enjoy the process.”
As forward Chris Kelly said, this is why you play hockey: for games like this. This is what you work toward all fall, all winter and all spring: the opportunity to be playing meaningful games coming down the stretch.
“That's the great thing about playing hockey: You get to experience new challenges, new experiences,” Kelly said. “This year's different than last year and previous years, but new opportunities, new challenges. We’re in this situation because of ourselves, and we still hold our fate in our hands.
“You don't play to play meaningless hockey games. You play to play with purpose. There's nothing better than playing 82 games that have purpose, so this is fun.”