On verge of playoff berth, Bruins start two-game set vs. Devils

NHL

There’s been an unofficial line this season between the haves and the have-nots in the East Division. The Boston Bruins can make it official Monday night, when they’ll look to clinch a playoff berth while visiting the New Jersey Devils in the opener of a two-game series in Newark, N.J.

Both squads were off Sunday after earning wins Saturday, when a hat trick from Craig Smith helped the Bruins inch closer to the postseason with a 6-2 victory over the Buffalo Sabres. The visiting Devils, meanwhile, won their third straight by cruising past the Philadelphia Flyers 4-1.

The win by the Bruins (30-14-6, 66 points), coupled with the New York Rangers’ loss later Saturday to the New York Islanders, cut their magic number for clinching the East’s fourth and final playoff spot to one.

An overtime loss Monday would send Boston to the playoffs for the fifth straight season, a streak exceeded in the Eastern Conference only by a pair of division rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals.

A win Monday also would vault the Bruins into third place, one point ahead of the idle Islanders, and keep alive their hopes of earning home-ice advantage in the first round. Boston enters Monday five points behind the first-place Penguins and three points behind the second-place Capitals, who are scheduled to face the Philadelphia Flyers and Rangers, respectively.

The Bruins also have two games in hand on the Penguins and one game on the Capitals. As well-positioned as Boston appears to be, however, coach Bruce Cassidy didn’t want to address the playoff possibilities before a berth was assured.

“We want to clinch first — hopefully we take care of business (Monday) night,” Cassidy said before practice Sunday afternoon. “Then we’ll start addressing that. Then we’ll see.”

While the Bruins have gone a combined 17-4-1 against the fifth-place Rangers, sixth-place Flyers and last-place Sabres, the seventh-place Devils (17-27-7, 41 points) have been a far peskier foe.

Boston is 2-3-1 against New Jersey, which won four straight games between the teams between Jan. 16 and March 28 before the Bruins earned a 5-4 win in the shootout March 30.

The Devils enter Monday’s game in the midst of a rare hot streak. The three-game winning streak is tied for the longest of the season for New Jersey, which lost 10 straight games (0-9-1) before recording the first of three straight wins over the Flyers last Tuesday.

“I felt we had energy in the group during the whole year,” said Devils left winger Jesper Bratt, who scored a goal Saturday. “Everyone comes in every day, trying to get better. We’re at a good mindset at all times. For sure, when you play this way and get a couple wins, it boosts the confidence a lot.”

Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, who has missed seven straight games, remains in the NHL’s COVID-19 protocol.

The Devils haven’t won four straight games since they opened the 2018-19 season with four consecutive wins.

–Field Level Media

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