After barely getting introduced to their division rivals in the first third of the season, the Bruins will play two Northeast foes on back-to-back nights with stops in Buffalo on Wednesday and Montreal on Thursday.
"I'm looking forward to it," said Bruins defenseman Adam McQuaid. "It's a couple of division games, so they're important games and they're two teams that are always fun to play against."
Through 28 games, the Bruins have played just seven against divisional opponents. That's fewer than they've played against either the Southeast Division (nine games) or Atlantic (nine games), while also playing four games against Western Conference clubs. And after this quick road trip, the Bruins finish out the month with five more games against Southeast teams and one against Anaheim.
That makes these two games this week all the more vital, especially the showdown in Montreal. The Habs lead the Northeast Division by two points over second-place Boston, and will host Philadelphia on Wednesday before welcoming the Bruins to the Bell Centre on Thursday.
"I think it is a big week for us," said Bruins coach Claude Julien. "I think we've approached the last couple weeks the same way, and it's pretty amazing when you look at the fact that you've gotten 10 out of 12 points in the last two weeks and you're still battling for fifth, sixth, seventh [in the East]. It just goes to show you how tight the standings are, and for us right now this is a big week."
Montreal is the marquee game, both for the history between the two ancient rivals and for the fact that first place could be on the line. But Julien was quick to point out that it won't mean nearly as much if the Bruins don't take care of business in Buffalo first.
"And though you're trying to catch up to Montreal, you have to get through Buffalo to give yourself a chance," said Julien. "So our focus really has to be on the game [Wednesday] night before we can even think about the game on Thursday. But the Montreal game is going to be an important one if we make it an important one, and that will depend on how we do in Buffalo."
The players seem to have received that message and are primed for both contests in the coming days.
"Right now we're trying to be the top team in our division, so this [trip] is going to be huge for us," said rookie defenseman Steven Kampfer, who will be making his first NHL road trip. "We have games in hand so if we can beat some of these teams in our conference and in our division and start climbing up the ladder, it would be great."
To prepare his club, Julien gave the players a couple of much-needed days off Sunday and Monday before returning to practice on Tuesday.
"They looked like they had lots of energy," said Julien after Tuesday's workout at Ristuccia Arena. "Sometimes a couple days off is good for you. … It was one of the few times where we were able to help them out in a way where they could get their rest away from practice and get a little time to do the stuff they need to do this time of year.
"It's been a pretty heavy schedule for a lot of teams around the league, so it's an opportunity for us to keep them off the ice for a bit," added Julien. "Just clear their heads a little bit and get ready for a big week. It was a move we felt we needed to make with this team."