BOSTON — The Bruins soared past the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday, winning 5-2 at TD Garden to ensure the race for the Atlantic Division’s third and final playoff spot would come down to the regular-season finale.
A win over the Ottawa Senators on Saturday coupled with a Detroit loss to the New York Rangers that same afternoon would send Boston through to the postseason, as would several other scenarios in the three-team playoff race also involving the Philadelphia Flyers.
There also, however, is a very real chance the Bruins could miss the postseason for the second time in as many years, depending on how the games involving those three teams play out this weekend.
“That’s the way it is,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said after Thursday’s win. “I’ve said that before, and I’m not going to change my tune here. We created that situation, and we got to live with it and take care of business the best we can here and still continue and hope for some breaks here.”
As the Bruins prepare for game No. 82, let’s take a spin through some notes from No. 81.
— Torey Krug scored his first goal since Dec. 5 during a second-period power play, much to the delight of his younger brother, Zak.
— Julien reunited two lines ahead of puck drop, moving Lee Stempniak back to top-line right wing alongside Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron, and positioning rookie winger Frank Vatrano on the fourth line with Noel Acciari and Landon Ferraro.
Both decisions paid off.
Bergeron’s line produced two of Boston’s five goals — one by Marchand, one by Stempniak — and the young trio of fourth-liners brought the same blend of speed and physicality it showed flashes of in its brief time together last month.
“Everybody played well (Thursday night),” Julien said. “There’s no disappointments — in my mind, anyway — from our crew.”
— With winger Jimmy Hayes nursing an injury, veteran forward Max Talbot slotted back into the Bruins’ lineup for the first time since Feb. 20. Talbot centered Boston’s third line and performed well in his latest return from the American Hockey League, as David Pastrnak’s first-period goal came on the line’s very first shift.
And if the Bruins were looking for someone to add a bit more big-game experience to their lineup, Talbot has that in spades. The 32-year-old has 84 career playoff games under his belt and says he’s already in postseason mode.
“I have been for about a month-and-a-half,” he said.
Talbot’s other linemate Thursday, left wing Matt Beleskey, registered two shots on goal and a game-high five hits.
— Forwards Chris Kelly and Brett Connolly were the only Bruins players to participate in Thursday’s optional morning skate, with most of the team opting to stay away from the rink until a few hours before puck drop.
Kelly, who’s been practicing steadily but has not played in a game since fracturing his femur on Nov. 3, gave an update on his condition after the session.
“I’m getting better,” the veteran center said. “That’s all I can really say. Every day I get out there, and I feel a little bit better. But it’s long. I wish I could say that I wake up one morning and I feel perfect, but obviously, not playing the length of time I’ve been playing, there’s a lot of work to be done to get back to such a high level. But every day’s better.”
Kelly said there would be no “Willis Reed” moment for him Thursday night, and there wasn’t — he watched the game from the press box as expected. But as has been the case in each of his meetings with the media since his injury, he did not rule out a return before the end of the season.
“I was targeting that when it happened on (Nov.) 3,” Kelly said. “You push, and you push, and you push, and I’ve done everything — I don’t want to say me; we’ve done everything (myself and the training staff) — that we can for me to get to here. And we’ll continue to keep pushing in a safe way to hopefully get back out there.”
The Bruins’ final regular-season game is against Kelly’s former team, the Senators.
— Vatrano and Seth Griffith both earned AHL First All-Star team selections for this season, with the former doing so despite appearing in just 33 of the Providence Bruins’ 70 games.
Vatrano, who has 38 games with the big club, including each of its last eight, leads the NHL’s lower circuit in goals with 33. Griffith played just four games with Boston this season but is tied for the AHL lead in assists with 45 and tied for second in points with 67.
Here’s the full list of AHL All-Star honorees, which also includes ex-Bruins winger Chris Bourque, UMass Amherst product Brandon Montour, University of Maine product Will O’Neill and University of New Hampshire product Mike Sislo:
— Denna Laing, who sustained a spinal injury while playing for the Boston Pride in the Outdoor Women’s Classic on New Year’s Eve, was in the house Thursday. She was recognized on the Jumbotron during the second period and also accepted a joint donation of $300,000 from the Bruins, the Jacobs family, the Boston Bruins Foundation and TD Garden.
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images
Thumbnail photo via Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien