BostonBruins.com - The wait is finally over.
After a two-season drought, the Bruins clinched their postseason berth on Tuesday night, their 80th game of the season, with a dominant 4-0 victory over the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The players, and a soldout crowd, were all smiles after the victory, knowing the second season is right around the corner. But, there is still work to be done. The B's have two regular season contests remaining, the first being against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night at TD Garden.
The Senators have won the first three matchups of the season between the two teams by a combined score of 10-5.
Puck drop is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. ET on NESN and 98.5 The Sports Hub.
Here is what you need to know:
Still Much to Play For
The Bruins (44-30-6, 94 points) turned on the jets after a four-game losing streak threatened to derail their season, winning six games in a row and securing their right to play in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. The six-game win streak in the longest stretch since March 2014.
In addition to the achievement, the Bruins can still improve their playoff positioning and potentially nab home ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs. Extending their winning streak against a division rival would help attain that goal.
"We have a couple big games coming up where we can solidify our spot in the standings and, hopefully, get some home ice advantage," said Torey Krug. "You've got to keep it going. At this point of year, nothing matters but winning hockey games and everyone wants to be a part of that."
A win against Ottawa on Thursday would vault the Bruins to the second spot in the Atlantic Division. With a regulation win against Ottawa, the Bruins would guarantee, at minimum, the third seed in the Atlantic Division with two points in any fashion against Washington on Saturday.
According to Interim Head Coach Bruce Cassidy, there is plenty more reason to show up for the final two tilts of the season, aside from the playoff picture.
"It's an important game," said Cassidy. "We want to finish as well as we can in terms of how we're playing, the points we accumulate, and where we finish in the standings."
"Right now, it's getting ready for Ottawa - things that we need to do to get through the neutral zone well to create offense, and keep the puck out of our net," Cassidy added.
"You want to prepare and keep building the confidence that we've done and established over the last six games," said Patrice Bergeron. "So, I think there are a lot of things that we can accomplish in the next two games."
Senators Head Coach Guy Boucher is known for his patented neutral zone trap, which the Bruins are sure to see plenty of on Thursday night. Ottawa ranks second in the NHL in point percentage when scoring first (.757), making the first strike crucially important for Boston.
"That's a big part of the game when you play Ottawa," said Krug. "They thrive off of turnovers in the neutral zone and they go the other way with it."
Although the Bruins haven't been able to crack the Senators code in the win column, Cassidy noted that his team played very well against Ottawa in their last matchup and expects more of the same on Thursday.
"We want to replicate the effort and change a few things to help the outcome go our way," Cassidy said, referring to their 3-2 loss against Ottawa at TD Garden back on March 21. "But, overall, I thought it was a much better game than how we played up there in Ottawa."
For Cassidy and the B's, the writing is on the wall: play well on Thursday and Saturday for the opportunity to play in front of a raucous TD Garden crowd to open up the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Opposing View: Ottawa Senators
The Senators (42-27-10, 94 points) are riding into Boston on a high after defeating Detroit 2-0 on Tuesday night, snapping a five-game losing skid (0-3-2). Ottawa has been jockeying for position in the Atlantic Division with Boston, Toronto, and Montreal for much of the season, but saw the separation they once had diminish after their losing streak.
Ottawa's struggles of late could be attributed to their injury troubles down the stretch, missing the likes of defensemen Cody Ceci and Marc Methot, as well as winger Zack Smith.
Erik Karlsson returned to action on Monday against Detroit after missing two games with a lower-body injury. The 26-year-old has put himself into the Norris Trophy conversation with 71 points (17 goals and 54 assists) this season, along with a plus/minus rating of +10.
Karlsson has had plenty of help up front this season, as Ottawa has three potent scoring threats in Mike Hoffman (25 goals and 35 assists), Kyle Turris (27 goals and 28 assists), and Mark Stone (22 goals and 30 assists). The three forwards have accounted for 35.1 percent of Ottawa's goals this season.
Craig Anderson was the story in Boston's 3-2 loss to Ottawa back on March 21, when he stopped 34 of 36 shots. Anderson will look to be a difference maker once again as he comes into Boston with a 23-11-4 record, a 2.35 goals-against average, and a .925 save percentage.
Ottawa ranks 22nd in the NHL in goals for (2.53 goals per game) and 11th in the NHL in goals allowed (2.58 goals per game).
Wait, There's More
- Brad Marchand will have a hearing with the Department of Player Safety on Thursday morning for his major spearing penalty on Jake Dotchin.
- Tuukka Rask stopped all 28 shots he faced against Tampa Bay on Tuesday night, notching his eighth shutout of the season, a new single-season career high.
- Thursday's matchup will be the 178th career meeting between the Bruins and the Senators. The Bruins hold a 95-61-11-10 record advantage against Ottawa.