With the playoff race tightening, the Boston Bruins look to bank some critical points when they host the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.
The Bruins (28-14-6, 62 points) hold the fourth and final East Division playoff spot, four points ahead of the fifth-place New York Rangers. Since the Bruins trail the first-place Washington Capitals by only six points, Boston’s final eight games could see the team finish anywhere from division champions to potentially missing the postseason altogether.
Tuesday’s 3-1 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins was a big step in the right direction for Boston. Tuukka Rask made 25 of 26 saves, and the Bruins scored the game’s first three goals, as coach Bruce Cassidy praised his club’s all-around performance.
“There was a lot to like tonight from everybody tonight,” Cassidy said. “We played a good, determined game. … Our top guys did the finishing tonight. Our bottom guys did a lot of the dirty work, the grunt work, the physicality. So, it’s a good formula for us.”
The victory snapped a two-game skid for the Bruins, with one of those losses coming in Buffalo on April 23. The Sabres recorded a 6-4 victory for their first win (1-4-1) in six games with Boston this season.
Due to several early-season postponements, the Sabres (13-30-7, 33 points) and Bruins have squared off four times since April 13, and they will conclude their season series with games in Boston on Thursday and Saturday.
As a result of this rearranged schedule, Taylor Hall has already faced his old team four times since being traded from the Sabres to the Bruins on April 12. Hall has a goal and two assists in those four games, and has seven points (four goals, three assists) in nine overall games for Boston.
The Sabres are on a two-game losing streak, including a 3-1 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday. Buffalo outshot New York by a 16-6 margin in the first period but was then outshot 35-21 over the final 40 minutes.
Rookie goalie Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen made 38 saves in his second NHL game, and sounded like a seasoned veteran in reacting to the Rangers’ pressure.
“Sometimes it’s actually even easier to play in periods like that when there’s a lot of stuff happening, so your mind kind of automatically just is on the game all the time,” Luukkonen said. “So you don’t really have time to count the shots.”
Luukkonen stopped 36 of 40 shots on April 23 to earn the win over the Bruins in his NHL debut. Since Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark are sidelined by injuries, Luukkonen and Dustin Tokarski will likely end up handling Buffalo’s goaltending duties for the rest of the season.
Rask is the more probable choice to start for the Bruins on Thursday, although Boston could opt to give Jaroslav Halak some action. Halak has only 17:19 minutes of ice time in Boston’s last 14 games, after missing much of that stretch due to COVID-19 protocols.
Brad Marchand has been one of the league’s hottest players in April, recording 22 points (13 goals, nine assists) in 16 games.
Sam Reinhart is on a three-game scoring streak, which began with a hat trick against the Bruins on April 23. Reinhart is among the NHL leaders in goals scored (14) in road games this season.
–Field Level Media