OTTAWA - The implication of Thursday night's matchup between the Bruins and Ottawa Senators was not lost on either side. The Senators sat just four points back of the Bruins for the second Wild Card spot, with a game in hand.
The Senators felt the pressure. The Bruins felt the pressure. If there was a game to be labeled the "biggest of the season" for both sides, this was it.
Within a mere 19 seconds, the game's tone was set.
A turnover not long after the opening draw led to the Sens racing in on Tuukka Rask and creating a 4-on-3. Kyle Turris ignited the crowd with the early tally and 1-0 lead, laying the groundwork for an eventual 6-4 win over the Bruins.
Boston did respond to the goal right away, with Carl Soderberg firing in his first goal in 25 games just 40 seconds later, as Turris' goal was still being announced to the crowd.
But back-and-forth, run-and-gun hockey is not how the Bruins play. Ottawa dictated that from the drop of the puck.
BostonBruins.com - The Bruins' playoff fate is in their hands.
They have a handle on the first Wild Card spot, a position they have hovered in for months, with 12 games left in the regular season.
As of Wednesday, the Bruins had a game in hand on the Washington Capitals, who sit three points above them.
Not far below, the Ottawa Senators have 79 points and a game in hand on Boston, while the Florida Panthers aren't going anywhere, with 76 points.
Is this what the NHL schedule makers had in mind, when they arranged the Bruins' upcoming road trip through Ottawa and Florida?
The Senators have been on a tear to climb back up the standings and have won four straight games since dropping a 3-1 loss to Boston on March 10. They have been emptying their tanks every night, and the Bruins will need to follow suit on Thursday night at Canadian Tire Centre.
"It's definitely an exciting time right now," Brad Marchand said following the team's skate on Wednesday, before they flew to Ottawa. "But it's also nerve-wracking. It's not the most ideal position to be in. I'm sure we'd much rather be in a more secure playoff spot, but at the end of the day, it's in our hands right now."
"And it's up to us to come out and play good hockey and win hockey games and if we can do that, then we'll be able to secure a playoff spot. But it's in this room, and it's up to us whether or not we're going to be there."
WILMINGTON, Mass. - With the Bruins jetting off for a three-game road trip to Ottawa and Florida, David Krejci will be making the trip with his teammates.
It marks the first time Krejci will be setting off on a road trip since sustaining his left knee injury on Feb. 20 in St. Louis.
Krejci practiced with the team on Wednesday at Ristuccia Arena, marking his second day skating with the group.
He first started skating on his own with Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides on March 10. Krejci is just about four weeks into his recovery, and could be making a return as early as this weekend.
"He’s coming on the trip. I can’t tell you any more than that because really, nobody’s told me when he’s coming [back]," Head Coach Claude Julien said following Wednesday's practice. "I talked about, is he a possibility for the weekend? That could be a possibility, if I’m told he is, but right now, nothing has been said to me."
BOSTON - The Bruins don't take teams for granted. Head Coach Claude Julien makes sure it stays that way.
The Buffalo Sabres last won a game on Feb. 26. They have lost seven straight since then, and remain in the last spot in the standings. They come into TD Garden on Tuesday night facing the Bruins in the second game of a back-to-back.
Still, the Bruins won't be overlooking them.
"Well, anybody who watched the game last night should know better. That’s my take on it," Julien said pregame on Tuesday from TD Garden, referencing the Sabres' 4-3 shootout loss to the Washington Capitals in D.C. on Sunday night in which they carried the play for most of the game.
"The Rangers beat them 2-0 with an empty-net goal. They’re very competitive. When you go out there and just go out there and play and compete hard and obviously [have] no pressure, you become a pretty good team and that’s what they are right now."
"The last two times we beat them, it took overtime so we’re certainly not in a position to come out and take them lightly."
While the Bruins sit in the second Wild Card for a playoff position, four points back of the Capitals with two games in hand, the Sabres are at a point in the season where the end is in sight.
"[Ted Nolan's] team continues to be competitive, [but] his team is still at the bottom. It’s tough for a coach. It really is tough for a coach," Julien empathized. "In his position, he wants his team to succeed and play well. I’m not sure overall that’s not what they want when they’re looking for the first overall pick, so it’s not an easy position to be in."
BostonBruins.com - David Krejci rejoined his teammates on Tuesday morning, taking part in his first skate with the team since sustaining his left knee injury on Feb. 20.
Krejci first started skating a week ago, on March 10, under the watchful eyes of Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides.
The center has missed 11 games with due to partially torn MCL in his left knee which has now been on the mend for three and a half weeks. He'll miss his 12th straight game on Tuesday, when the Bruins host the Buffalo Sabres at TD Garden.
By all accounts, Krejci is progressing well, and inching closer to a return, that could come as early as this weekend, depending on how he continues to feel.
"You know, he was able to skate with us today because of line rushes and all that," said Head Coach Claude Julien, pointing to there being no contact drills during the customary pregame skate.
"So, he's progressing well," he said. "I don't know exactly how close he is [to returning] - is he a possibility for the weekend? I think the earliest would probably be the weekend, at the earliest, and maybe even more."
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bruins went into the Verizon Center 7-0-1 in their past eight games. They had struck first on the scoreboard in 11 straight games. They had not trailed by two goals in a game since Feb. 20 in St. Louis.
By the time the buzzer sounded, the sirens went off, and the fans clad in the red, white and blue of the nation's capital received a stick salute from their home team, those Bruins' trends were snapped in a 2-0 loss to the Capitals.
Goaltender Braden Holbty extended his shutout streak to 126:43 against the Bruins. With a 4-0 loss to the Caps on Oct. 11 in the teams' first meeting, the Bruins have now been outscored 6-0 this season.
"Well, [he's been good] against us, at least," Head Coach Claude Julien said of Holtby. "We haven't scored a goal on these guys yet in two games, so it's been a little challenging for us."
"He played a pretty good game," said Brad Marchand. "I don't think we had enough traffic in front of him, and a goalie that is that good, you have to get bodies in front and take away his eyes, and we didn't do a good enough job of that."
The Caps had lost two straight and three of their last four games heading into the matchup with the Bruins, and were just a day removed from an off day turned into a 'wakeup call' practice and regrouping on Saturday. They needed to come out firing in front of their home crowd.
WASHINGTON, D.C. - The Bruins knew the month of March would be a tough one, starting off with 11 games in 18 days. It would be busy, and rest would be scarce.
That hasn't stopped the Black and Gold from winning five straight and going 7-0-1 in their past eight games, with the latest victory coming from a 2-0 shutout of the Penguins in Pittsburgh on Saturday.
Thanks to the win, the Bruins pulled themselves even with their next opponent - the Washington Capitals - for the first Wild Card spot in the East with 82 points. Boston has a game in hand, and could pass the Caps with a win on Sunday at the Verizon Center.
"We battled a long way to get here, so we're finally the spot that I think we deserve to be," Reilly Smith said pregame, taking a break from his two-touch soccer game to discuss the night's matchup.
"Especially this last 20-game span, we've strung together a lot of wins," he said. "So it's good to be here and they're a team we're competing for for this Wild Card spot, so it will be a good test tonight."
BOSTON - The Bruins have won nine straight games against the Tampa Bay Lightning since the 2011-12 season.
They will try for No. 10 on Thursday night, when they host Tampa Bay at TD Garden (7:00 p.m. ET, NESN, 98.5 The Sports Hub).
The last regular season victory for the Bolts in Boston came back on March 25, 2010, and current Head Coach Jon Cooper hasn't been behind the bench for a win over the Black and Gold.
"I don't know - people have asked me that question all the time, 'Why are you 3-0 against Montreal, but you can't beat Boston?' Yet, Montreal beats Boston all the time. I don't know," said Cooper, who noted pregame that Boston is a team 'who's pretty much playing like they're first in the East.'
"It's the circle of the NHL. No answer for it. Hopefully it ends tonight," he quipped.
The Bruins are hoping otherwise.
Tampa Bay brings plenty of speed and skill as the highest scoring team in the League, having put up 223 goals through 68 games. Boston has consistently been able to shut them down.
It's a matchup to point to, when critics have deemed the Bruins as a team not quick enough to keep up with the skating legs of teams like Tampa Bay, Detroit and Montreal within the division.
WILMINGTON, Mass. - David Krejci skated on Wednesday morning for the second straight day in his recovery from a partially torn MCL in his left knee.
Krejci sustained the injury on Feb. 20 against the St. Louis Blues when he landed a hit on Alexander Steen. The center was slated to miss four to six weeks with the injury. He is just about three weeks into that time frame.
He hit the ice at Ristuccia Arena with Strength and Conditioning Coach John Whitesides, spending about a half hour
"It's part of the healing process, so being on the ice is a good sign," said Head Coach Claude Julien, who knows that Krejci is still at least a week away from a possible return. "But he's not ready to be in our lineup."
In Krejci's absence, center Ryan Spooner has slotted in for the past eight games heading into Thursday night's matchup against the Tampa Bay Lightning at TD Garden. He has three goals and five assists in that span.
Spooner's call-ups over the span of his three pro seasons have come, for the most part, with Krejci sidelined. It's a tall task to slot into his spot, but this stint has been different for the forward.
Finally scoring his first NHL goal was a start. It came in his third game up with the big club, and catapulted the team to an overtime win in New Jersey the began their recent 5-0-1 run.
BOSTON - The playoff race is heating up, and if this weekend's back-to-back wins by the Bruins are any indication, they are heating up right along with it.
"It seems like everyone right now is feelin' it," said Brad Marchand, who struck first on Sunday afternoon en route to a 5-3 win over the Detroit Red Wings at TD Garden.
"You can see every line's making plays and we're all getting opportunities, so it's something that's been a long time coming and we've been working hard at it in practice, but it feels nice out there for sure."
The victory gave the Bruins four points on the weekend following their comeback 2-1 overtime win against Philadelphia on Saturday that saw Marchand net the late tying goal and the game-winner. Marchand now has five goals in his past four games.
The Black and Gold have earned nine of 10 possible points in their past five games, with a shootout loss to Calgary the lone defeat.
They have scored first in eight straight games, their power play is producing and the penalty kill is on the upswing - and managed two shorthanded tallies against the NHL's top ranked power play on Sunday. Players who should be producing, are starting to produce.