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Tuesday, April 4, 2017

For the First Time In Three Long Years, Your Boston Bruins are Headed Back to the Playoffs

Great news, internet friends: playoff hockey is coming back to Boston this spring! By virtue of the Bruins' (44-30-6) 4-0 blanking of the Lightning (39-30-10) this evening at TD Garden, Boston clinched its first postseason berth since 2013-14. There are many reasons that the B's are back in the playoffs and goaltender Tuukka Rask (career-high 37th win of the season) has to be near the top of any such list as he made 28 saves in his career-best eighth shutout of the season. That's the most by a Bruins goaltender since crazy Tim Thomas had nine in 2010-11. Boston's season-high win-streak was extended to six games as their defense continues to lock down on opponents in front of their pair of red-hot goalies. PS interim head coach Bruce Cassidy improved to 18-7 since taking over from former head coach Claude Julien. I guess that was a decent move by Boston's front office at the time.

Brad Marchand was rightfully slapped with a game misconduct with 40 seconds left in the first period after a vicious spearing incident with Tampa Bay defenseman Jake Dotchin's groin. It was a low-rent cheap shot that was more typical of Marchand's earlier checkered NHL career. He was given a five-minute major but luckily his teammates picked him up by killing it all off from the first period into the second period. Keep in mind this is the same guy who has been suspended six times and was also fined $10,000 earlier in this campaign. I'd be very surprised if he isn't suspended by the league and the worst part is that it could extend into the postseason.

Boston finished 4-1 against Tampa Bay this season and they grabbed a 2-0 lead in the second period. Drew Stafford put in a backhander top shelf on Andrei Vasilevskiy's (34 saves) juicy rebound at 5:56. David Krejci and Adam McQuaid had the assists on Stafford's seventh goal of the season (his 3rd as a Bruin). David Pastrnak doubled the Bruins' lead when he one-timed Riley Nash's pretty feed at 16:06. Kevan Miller provided the other helper on Pasta's 33rd goal of the season. The B's are now 34-0-2 when leading after two periods so needless to say, the Lightning were cooked when they were down 2-0 headed into the third.

Fittingly from the captain, Zdeno Chara's power play goal at 9:12 basically sealed Boston's postseason ticket. His 10th goal of the season-a one-timer-was assisted by Torey Krug and David Backes. Pastrnak added an empty-netter at 18:58 for the final margin. The Bruins won 20 more faceoffs than the Lightning (36-16) led by Patrice Bergeron's unheard of perfect performance (17-0!).

Ottawa (42-27-10) beat Detroit (32-36-12) 2-0 tonight while Toronto (39-25-15) fell 4-1 at Washington (53-18-8) as well meaning that the B's and Senators both have 94 points but Ottawa has played one less game so they are currently in second-place in the Atlantic Division. Toronto has 93 points and they have also played one fewer contest so they reside in the second Wild Card spot. Neither Ottawa nor Toronto has clinched a playoff spot yet but they are almost guaranteed with the Islanders (38-29-12) and Lightning each on life support.

The B's still have plenty to play for in their last two games as they host the Senators on Thursday (7, NESN) and then the Capitals on Saturday afternoon (3, NBC) to close out the regular season. Ottawa is 3-4-3 in their last 10 games and Boston hasn't beaten them all season so this seems like the perfect time to check that off the list which would give them the upper-hand for home-ice in a potential first-round playoff series. It sounds funny to say this after such a weird up and down season, but few teams will want to see the Bruins in the first round. They are playing their most complete hockey of the season and barring a long suspension for Marchand, they should have a full compliment of healthy (enough) players. Game on!

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