For a team like the Bruins, they are now battling for home-ice advantage in the postseason, while tonight's match-up in New Jersey will showcase a Devils team that has lost seven straight and is scraping to making the playoffs.
All the more reason for a game in which whoever wins the last battle, might just be the one who ends up on top.
Tonight’s contest features two defensive-minded clubs, and that has led to their history of tight games, despite the Bruins taking the last six games from New Jersey. In their two previous match-ups this season, both won by the Bruins at TD Garden, the B’s and Devils have combined to score four goals in the tight-checking games.
The Black & Gold won the first game, 2-1, and took the second, just last Thursday, shutting out New Jersey, 1-0, behind 40 saves from Tuukka Rask.
With both teams battling for playoff positioning, another hard-fought, tight battle is expected. With a win, the Bruins can overtake the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Northeast Division; the Devils can match the eighth-seeded New York Rangers and ninth-seeded Winnipeg Jets (42 points) with two points.
“They're a team that I always say plays a heavy game and we like to play a heavy game against them,” explained B’s Head Coach Claude Julien following this morning’s pregame skate.
“So for a lot of fans that maybe like the run-and-gun type of hockey, they may not be overly thrilled about [the game tonight]. But anybody who knows the game of hockey respects and admires the way guys battle on the ice when our two teams meet.”
The Devils have lost seven straight, but Julien said his team has to be on its game with New Jersey trying to battle for a playoff spot and get back in the win column.
“They're not going to change their style. I'm telling you that because I don't think they've been playing bad,” said the Bruins bench boss.
“If anything, when you watch their team you can, I guess, sympathize with them because they are snake-bitten. They've got lots of opportunities, they've been working hard, they're playing well, they're just not getting the results.
“That in itself, to me, means we better be ready tonight because it's just a matter of time before it goes their way and you're hoping it's not going to be against your team.”
Chris Kelly, who returned from injury on Monday night in the Bruins’ 6-2 win over Carolina, spoke about the Bruins needing to be ready, not just for the Devils, but for all of the teams left on the schedule that are grinding it out down the stretch..
“We want to push each other,” said Kelly. “Obviously, tonight we have an opportunity to move into first place in our division, so that's an important game for us. We know they're battling hard, teams we're playing down the stretch are all battling for their playoff lives. It's going to be an intense, physical game and we need to be prepared.”
“Obviously that's how they play, they play a great defensive game,” added Kelly on the Devils.
“They have guys that can score offensively, they have a great goaltender. We know it's going to be a defensive battle, we've got to be patient, hopefully capitalize on our opportunities. I think we need to take care of our own end and work out from there.”
With Ilya Kovalchuk out of the lineup (he has been skating, but is not ready for game action), the Devils have been struggling to score - but in match-ups against the B's, the goals haven't necessarily come for either team, with or without Kovalchuk in.
"They're not winning the games that they want right now, maybe all the more the reason why they're hungry today," said B's forward Daniel Paille. "Missing a key player in Kovalchuk, too. It's going to be a hard-working game against them. It's low-scoring always, so it's going to be a tough battle for us."
Time for Playoff Intensity
While knowing what their opponent brings tonight, the Bruins are placing emphasis within their own locker room, as they strive to find a higher intensity heading into the final 10 games of the season.
"I think that's been one of our main focus, at times it's there, but I think we need to, for these next 10 games, we have to really battle for these games," said Paille pregame. "We come out and I think we want to show that we're consistent going forward towards the end of the season."
For Chris Kelly, who is just happy he was able to get some games under his belt for the playoffs and is feeling a "little bit better each and every game" following his recovery from a broken left tibia that caused him to miss 14 games, knows what's at stake for the B's in these final 10 games.
"Obviously this is an important time for our hockey club," he acknowledged. "Playoffs are just around the corner."
"You want to get used to doing that, getting into playoff mode, to be more physical, to do the little things, chipping in, to not stray away from our game plan," said Johnny Boychuk, on upping the intensity before the postseason.
"It's like a mindset, we go into playoffs in that "playoff mode." You have to do it beforehand, to keep it rolling for playoffs. And if not, you're going to be out in the first round, like we were last year."
First in the Northeast on the Line
Johnny Boychuk is expecting a great game between the last two Eastern Conference champions, and made sure to note that although New Jersey is scraping for two points, a win for the B's is just as important.
“They went to the Cup Finals last year and we won the year before. It's going to be a test again for us."
“Both teams need the points - it's a big game for us; if we win, we're in first place [in the Northeast]. They're trying to battle for a playoff positions. Both teams should be ready to go and battling as hard as we can."
---Eric Russo contributed to this report