The Boston Bruins have almost secured home-ice advantage throughout the Eastern Conference playoffs. Given that the Ottawa Senators have showed no sign of being able to stop them, the Bruins figure to move even closer to that goal in the series' next meeting.
Boston look to win its seventh straight over Ottawa on Thursday night when the teams meet at TD Banknorth Garden.
With six games remaining, Boston (49-17-10) is in excellent position to wrap up the top seed in the East, which brings with it home-ice advantage in the first three rounds. The Bruins have a seven-point lead over Washington - their closest pursuer - and could potentially clinch first place in the conference at home against the New York Rangers on Saturday.
Despite how close they are to their first conference title since 2002, Boston remains even-keeled.
"I don't know if we need to win the conference for the confidence," coach Claude Julien said. "We feel pretty good about ourselves and that if we play the way we can we can be successful. ... Once the playoffs start, those things don't matter."
Helping the Bruins' cause is an easy path into the postseason. They face Ottawa twice as well as the New York Islanders - two teams that have already been eliminated from playoff contention - and also take on Buffalo, which is currently 10th in the conference.
Boston has won four straight, including a 3-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Tuesday. Blake Wheeler and Chuck Kobasew each scored their 20th goals of the season and backup Manny Fernandez made 24 saves.
The Bruins are averaging 4.5 goals during the win streak and are 7-for-15 (46.7 percent) on the power play during that stretch. Prior to their four-game run, they had gone 3-5-2 between Feb. 28 and March 19, during which they averaged 2.7 goals and were 6-for-36 (16.7 percent) with the man advantage.
"We're moving the puck quicker and with a lot more confidence," Julien said.
The winning streak comes despite the absence of leading goal-scorer Phil Kessel, who has missed the last three games with an undisclosed injury. Julien said Wednesday that he will be out until next week.
The Senators (33-33-10) certainly won't mind not seeing Kessel, who has four goals and three assists against them in four Boston wins this season. The Bruins have won six straight against Ottawa dating to last season and four in a row at home, outscoring the Senators 19-7 at TD Banknorth Garden.
Boston's Tim Thomas is 6-0-0 with 1.32 goals-against average and two shutouts in his last six starts versus the Senators.
Ottawa was eliminated from contention Tuesday with a 5-2 loss to Florida. The Senators, who have lost three of four after winning nine of 10, gave up three second-period goals and trailed 4-1 early in the third after Alex Auld replaced rookie Brian Elliot in goal.
This is the first time the Senators will not be in the postseason since 1996.
"It's not something that snuck up on us," captain Daniel Alfredsson said. "We've known this situation for a long time. Our focus hasn't been only on trying to get into the playoffs, it's been on turning things around, which we definitely have, and now it's a matter of trying to keep our momentum and keep playing."
Alfredsson has only one assist in the last five games. He has two goals and three assists against the Bruins this season.