“This is playoff hockey — we’re playing for our lives, and we’re going to be leaving it all out on the ice,” said Senators goaltender Craig Anderson.
For the Bruins, it is no different.
“We need to play our best every night if we’re going to make the playoffs,” said forward Brad Marchand following Boston’s morning skate. “We might be in a decent position right now, but there’s still a lot of games left, and anything could happen. If we want to make sure that at the end of the year, we’re in a playoff spot, we need to get every single point possible and continue to play great hockey.
“We don’t only want to finish the season strong; we want to go into the playoffs knowing that we’re playing our best hockey, and try to use that momentum going forward. But before we do that, we need to make sure we have our best game every single night, and we need to have everybody on board, and we can’t have any passengers.
“If we do, then one weak link is enough to cost the game.”
The Bruins are clinging to the final Wild Card spot in the Eastern Conference, but there are a handful of teams that are hot on their heels — the Senators among them.
At present, Ottawa sits just five points behind the Bruins in the standings. The Bruins, therefore, know exactly what is at stake on Tuesday.
“We’ve had a lot of those big games lately, and this is no different from that,” said goaltender Tuukka Rask. “They’re a few points behind us, and it’s really important for us to keep taking steps in the right direction with our game, and still trying to push those teams below us even more below.”
The good news for the Bruins is that this push toward the playoffs seems to be bringing out the best in them, injuries and adversity aside. In their last five games, they have earned nine of a possible 10 points, and coming off a huge weekend in which they took down Philadelphia and Detroit in the span of about 24 hours, their confidence is back up to where it needs to be in order to conquer the upcoming stretch run.
“I think the past couple of weeks, we’ve played really solid hockey, and kind of back to the efforts and game we want,” Rask said. “We’ve been getting some results — obviously a few tough losses there — but it’s going in the right direction.
“Seventeen, 18 games to go in the season, there’s no taking steps back anymore; we have to keep going.”
Added forward Chris Kelly, “I think our consistency’s been better, and we still make mistakes, but I think the layers are there, and guys are covering up those mistakes a lot better than they were before. That’s helping a lot.”
Following Tuesday night’s game, the road doesn’t get any easier for the Bruins. Nearly every game from here on out has significant playoff implications — for both sides — which means Boston is going to be seeing the best of every team, every night, from this point on.
It is crucial, therefore, for the B’s to consistently be at their best, too, night in and night out.
“Usually, that’ll happen when teams who are battling [for] the playoffs are coming down to the wire,” Marchand said. “We have to be even better [Tuesday], and going forward, we have a lot of huge, important games that we need to be really good in. [Tuesday] is definitely one of those. We can’t look past any single game, and especially with how well [the Senators] have been playing, we need to make sure we play our best game of the season and leave it all out there.”
In three matchups against Ottawa thus far in 2014-15, the Bruins have gone 1-0-2. They won one game in decisive fashion but lost two more in heartbreaking fashion — one in overtime, one in a shootout, both on their home ice.
Now that they are playing a hungry Senators team on the road, the Bruins must do exactly what they have done over the last five games or so: stick to their gameplan and simply be better than their opponent.
“We played Philadelphia on Saturday, and it was a lot the same thing — if they beat us in regulation, they were back in the [playoff] race,” said Bruins Head Coach Claude Julien. “So that game meant everything to them, and we realize that it’s probably the same for Ottawa.
“So we anticipate seeing their best tonight, and we just have to be better.”
Rask was the first goalie off the ice after morning skate and thus projects to be the starter for Tuesday night’s game. His counterpart in the Senators’ net will be Anderson, who will be making his second straight start after returning to action on Sunday night following a 46-day layoff due to a hand injury.
In his first start back, Anderson stopped 42 shots in an eventual 5-4 shootout win over Calgary.
“I’m hoping just to get back on the saddle here and go for a ride and not really think too much about the time off, second game, whatever it may be,” Anderson said. “Just focus on making the next save, and for me, it’s just a matter of getting back into a rhythm of the gameday routine and three periods and coming in between periods and just getting back into that routine of mentally being ready for it. That’s kind of the big challenge.”
Rask is coming off a solid performance against the Flyers on Saturday, in which he made 29 saves on 31 shots and stood tall through 1:55 of overtime before Marchand netted the game-winner.
Rask, who turned 28 on Tuesday, doesn’t mind working on his birthday — as long as he gets a nice gift out of it.
“We’re in for a tough matchup tonight,” he said with a grin, “and I’ll take two points as a birthday gift.”
When asked what he had gotten his teammate for his birthday, Chris Kelly was caught off-guard.
“It’s his birthday today?” Kelly deadpanned. “Oh, man. … We’re going to have to get him something nice. I don’t know what it is. What do you get Tuukka?”
When informed of Rask’s sole birthday wish, Kelly vowed to do his best to make it come true.
“We’ll try for [two points],” he said.
It’s been a while since Kelly was traded from Ottawa to Boston — four years, to be exact — but it’s still exciting when he returns to the Canadian Tire Centre to face off against his former team.
“I think it’s always special, playing here, and living here,” Kelly said. “It has kind of died down since the first time that I played my first game as a Bruin in here, but it’s still meaningful to come back in this arena.”
Kelly, who still spends his offseason training with some current members of the Senators, isn’t at all surprised by the way this team has surged in the last month or so.
“They’re a skilled team that works hard,” he said. “When you have those combinations going for you, good things are going to happen. They’re proving that.”
Bruins rookie Ryan Spooner never played for the Senators, but given that he grew up in Ottawa, he certainly spent enough time watching them as a kid. Tuesday will mark his first game as a Bruin in front of his home crowd.
“It’s great,” Spooner said. “I mean, since I’ve been four or five, I’ve been coming here to watch and that kind of stuff, so it’s great.”
Among those in attendance for Tuesday’s game will be Spooner’s parents, his sister and a handful of friends, but despite the excitement surrounding his homecoming, the implications of the game itself are not lost on him.
“I think they’re five points down on us right now, so it’s a huge game,” he said. “Just to come back here and play is always … I guess you could say like a weird feeling, but I’m definitely excited for it.”
Projected Lineup vs. Ottawa
Brad Marchand — Patrice Bergeron — Reilly Smith
Milan Lucic — Ryan Spooner — David Pastrnak
Chris Kelly — Carl Soderberg — Loui Eriksson
Daniel Paille — Gregory Campbell — Max Talbot
Zdeno Chara — Dougie Hamilton
Dennis Seidenberg — Matt Bartkowski
Torey Krug — Adam McQuaid
Starting Goaltender: Tuukka Rask // Backup: Niklas Svedberg