With the dominance of the Metropolitan Division in the standings thus far, there's a good chance that only three Atlantic Division teams will be in the Stanley Cup playoffs this season. The Boston Bruins hit town for Thursday night's game against the Sabres holding that No. 3 slot in the Atlantic Division, but it's a tenuous hold at best.
The Bruins are just 2-3-2 in their last seven games and 3-5-3 in their last 11. They're only one point ahead of Tampa Bay and three points ahead of Toronto and Florida. The Sabres are dangerous heading into this home-and-home series as well because they're six points back with three games in hand.
"It's all about winning hockey games. I'm not dissecting this thing unnecessarily," coach Claude Julien said after his team's optional skate Thursday in KeyBank Center. "We have to win a hockey game here. It starts tonight and we should be focusing on winning this game. To me it doesn't matter who it is. There's no doubt there's more importance when you look at the standings but a win is what we need."
Games within the Atlantic are going to take on added importance this season because of the look that the Metro will have five playoff teams and the Atlantic just three. Buffalo is only 4-5-3 within the division this season while the Bruins are 9-5-0.
"It's very realistic to think that way because that's the direction it seems to be going right now," Julien said of only three Atlantic teams making the postseason. But there's still half a season to play. I can't answer more. You can look around all you way. If you're worried about looking around more and not worried about doing your own job, then you're probably focusing on the wrong direction."
The Bruins have given up four goals in seven of their last 11 games in a big dropoff defensively from mid-November. And the Bruins haven't scored more than three goals in any of them. Boston had a 7-4-1 stretch last month where it gave up only 21 goals in the 12 games.
The Sabres dropped the two previous meetings to Boston and scored only one goal against Tuukka Rask. Rask is 17-7-3 this year with a 1.95 goals-against average and .927 save percentage. He's at 0.50/.985 in the two games against the Sabres -- and his career numbers against Buffalo are 11-5-1, 2.12/.933
David Pastrnak (team-high 19 goals) had a goal and two assists in those games and Brad Marchand (10 goals, team-high 29 points) had two points and often controlled play, as Sabres coach Dan Bylsma said earlier today.
Marchand, a 37-goal man last season, is only on a 22-goal pace this year after his big performance on Sidney Crosby's line at the World Cup of Hockey.
"His expectation is to score as many the following year and right now he's not on that pace for that," Julien said. "But he's a guy like Dan said when he's on top of his game, he can be a real game-changer for your hockey club. We rely on guys like that to come up big in big hockey games."