A win over the Rangers at the Garden coupled with a Carolina regulation loss Saturday night against Tampa Bay would have clinched a playoff berth for the B's. They don't have to worry about doing any scoreboard watching Saturday night now, at least not in regards to the Hurricanes' game.
How the Canadiens fare against Washington could still matter. The Bruins are in no danger of falling out of playoff position, but they did leave the door open for the Habs in the Northeast Division race just a bit as they were unable to follow up Thursday's dominant 7-0 victory over Montreal with a similar showing Saturday.
The Rangers scored the only goal of the game 6:39 into the first and held on for the 1-0 victory, ending the Bruins' modest win streak at two games.
"I thought we were a little bit slow coming out and they were ready obviously for us," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "And we couldn't get anything going. They were more hungry than us and more desperate than us."
That was a far cry from the effort and intensity on display throughout the full 60 minutes of Thursday's win. That was a statement win for the Bruins against their fiercest rival, one that had dominated Boston previously this season and a club that could be the Bruins' first-round opponent.
The rivalry with the Rangers hasn't been quite as heated in recent memory, though the games have been far more competitive. In fact, 14 of the last 16 games between the Bruins and Rangers have been decided by one goal, with the other two contests 3-1 decisions. And there could be many more meetings between the clubs coming in the near future, as the Rangers are currently tied in points with the Habs and could pass them for sixth in the East to set up a first-round showdown with third-seeded Boston.
"It felt like it was a playoff game to me today," Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask said. "The scoring chances were tough to get. It's tough to get those pucks to the net. They really are a good playoff team. You never know what happens come playoff time, but they would definitely be a very tough matchup for us.
"They play a different system that we don't usually see," Rask added. "They really don't give up a lot of chances. It's always been like this against them one-goal games and tough to get chances. But it seems to work for them. If it comes to playoff time [against them], we have to figure out how to get scoring chances."
Montreal would be a tough test as well, even after Thursday's impressive victory. But the biggest challenge for the Bruins will be sustaining the emotional level needed to win in the postseason. They weren't able to muster the same energy at the start of this one coming off Thursday's win.
"It took us a while to get going," Bruin coach Claude Julien said. "I thought that the other team played a pretty solid game. They were strong on the puck. They were solid. They were gritty. And we were a little light on our sticks there for the first 40 minutes. That kind of put us in a bad situation and in the third period, [it was] too little too late."
The Bruins did put together a strong second half of the game. They outshot New York 12-1 in the third, but couldn't get the equalizer past Henrik Lundqvist, who made 26 saves for his league-leading 11th shutout of the season.
The Bruins actually had trouble just getting shots on Lundqvist, as the Rangers also had 29 blocked shots to just eight for the Bruins. Eighteen of those blocks came in the third period when the game was on the line and the Bruins were throwing everything they had at the Rangers.
"They're a pretty dedicated group at getting in the shooting lanes," Julien said. "They've always been that way and that's what they did [Saturday]. Obviously you want your guys to find those shooting lanes and you want to get those pucks through, but even at the end when we were firing away late in the third, they were all collapsed and doing whatever they had to do to block shots. They were willing to pay the price."
For too long on Saturday, the Bruins weren't able to match that effort in the same manner they had shown against Montreal. The Bruins admitted they struggled a bit early to find their game again, but denied any kind of letdown after Thursday's emotional win was a factor.
"I think maybe we were a little bit flat off the hop," forward Shawn Thornton said. "But I wouldn't attribute it to the last game. I think maybe just being an afternoon game it took us a while to get going, I don't know. But I thought we responded really well in the third period. I thought we controlled play for the most part. This game could have gone either way, that's for sure."
Julien agreed. "I think that would be a weak excuse," the coach said. "We're certainly not going to use that as an excuse. This is the time our year where you got to make sure that you're able to push those games aside. There's a lot of emotional games coming up in the future here, in the near future, and we've got to be able to respond night after night."
The Bruins had a chance on Saturday to guarantee more emotional games in their near future. They'll still get those games. The playoffs will be clinched soon enough. They just need to prove they can sustain the kind of effort needed for a long postseason run.