WILMINGTON, Mass. — Technically, the Boston Bruins still have six games remaining on their regular-season schedule. But given how tight the standings are in the Eastern Conference, Matt Beleskey plans on treating each of those remaining contests like a playoff game.
?It?s like the playoffs have started now,” the Bruins winger said after Monday’s practice at Ristuccia Arena. “We?ve got to get in there and secure our spot. Every shift counts, every period, and we?ve just got to keep playing better.”
After beating the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, the Bruins entered the week in third place in the Atlantic Division, three points behind the second-place Tampa Bay Lightning and five back of the division-leading Florida Panthers. The team they need to worry about most, however, is the one right below them.
The Detroit Red Wings trailed Boston by three points as of Monday afternoon, and they have a chance to trim that margin to one when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Monday night. Both teams are vying for a top-three spot in the Atlantic, as a fourth-place finish could mean a first-round date with the vaunted Washington Capitals, the odds-on favorite to represent the East in the Stanley Cup Final.
?Everyone, you kind of watch it,” Beleskey said of monitoring how the Bruins’ competition fares each night. “But it?s still going to end up being (about) how we perform. If we win the games and get the points, that should take care of itself. But I?m not a huge standings-watching type guy. I?d like to just go out and win the games from here on out, give ourselves a much better chance.”
That, in center David Krejci’s mind, is the biggest difference this Bruins squad and the 2014-15 one that missed the postseason for the first time in seven years. At this time last season, the B’s did not control their own destiny. Now, it’s win and they’re in.
?One-hundred percent,” Krejci said when asked if this home stretch feels different from last season’s. “We?re in the playoffs. We control our own destiny. I remember the last couple games (were) a little different last year, but we?re in it. We?re in a good spot. We worked so hard the whole season to put ourselves in this situation, and we?re in it right now, so it feels good. The last win was huge, so hopefully we can build on it and get two more points (Tuesday night).
Some additional notes from Monday as the Bruins prepare for their Tuesday night matchup with the New Jersey Devils:
— Tuesday’s game will represent yet another reunion for winger Lee Stempniak, one of the most well-traveled players in NHL history.
Stempniak, who has played on 11 different teams since breaking into the NHL in 2005, began this season with the Devils and led New Jersey in goals before he was traded to the Bruins at last month’s trade deadline.
“It’ll be fun,” he said. “I had a lot of good friends there in New Jersey. And it’s a huge game for us, and we want to get that win. … I’m going to have dinner with Mike Cammalleri (on Monday) night, who’s a very good friend from Calgary and then New Jersey. But other than that — I know it sounds cliche — but you just approach it as another game. I’ve been through it a few times now where you know what it’s like to play against people you know.”
The Devils only recently dropped out of striking distance in the playoff race after finishing with the league’s sixth-worst record last season.
“We were sort of right in the wild-card hunt and then fell out at the end (of February),” Stempniak said. “And now to come to the Bruins, we’re a team that’s looking to win the Stanley Cup, and it’s exciting to be a part of that.”
New Jersey has been without injured starting goaltender Cory Schneider since March 4 but has received strong play of late from AHL call-up Scott Wedgewood, who’s allowed one goal or fewer in three of his first four NHL starts.
— The Boston chapter of the Professional Hockey Writers Association has selected backup goalie Jonas Gustavsson as the Bruins’ nominee for the Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy, given annually to the player who “best exemplifies the qualities of perseverance, sportsmanship, and dedication to ice hockey.”
Gustavsson has appeared in 22 games as Tuukka Rask’s No. 2 this season after injuries limited him to just seven with the Red Wings last season.
— Speaking of goaltenders, The Boston Globe’s Fluto Shinzawa over the weekend published an interesting look at the life of a journeyman goalie. The piece focused on 26-year-old Bruins minor leaguer Jeremy Smith, who’s played for AHL teams in two different organizations this season alone and has yet to make his NHL debut.
Check it out right here.
Thumbnail photo via Tom Szczerbowski/USA TODAY Sports Images