April 2, 2012

Bruins' goals much loftier than division title

By Jesse Connolly

Should the Florida Panthers finally get around to locking up the Southeast Division, it will be a marvelous accomplishment undoubtedly worth celebrating. 

Tim Thomas and the Bruins are heading to the playoff for the fifth-straight season. (Getty)

The Panthers, after all, own the longest active playoff drought in the National Hockey League. The last time they qualified for the postseason was the spring of 2000, led by 58-goal scorer Pavel Bure. The club has never won a division title in its history.

For the Boston Bruins, the magnitude of clinching one of the top three seeds in the conference pales in comparison. Winning the Northeast is nice, but the defending Stanley Cup champions have much loftier goals.

“You just go about your business,” coach Claude Julien said. “It’s great to have it happen but there’s no celebration here. We’re moving on. Our focus is not on that. It’s on continuing to play better as we move forward here. This is a nice accomplishment, but I think we’re expecting more of ourselves.”

The B’s cemented themselves as the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference with a 2-1 win over the Rangers on Sunday night. New York had won each of the first three meetings between the two clubs.

“It was a heavy game. For once, we got some breaks instead of the other way around,” Julien said. “Our guys stuck with it and we found a way to score some goals on them. They’re a tough team to play against. Both teams really wanted to win that game. There was more than just pride on the line.”

Boston came oh-so-close to nailing down a victory the last time they visited Madison Square Garden, putting three pucks past oft-unbeatable netminder Henrik Lundqvist, only to give up a goal late and fall by a score of 4-3.

“I liked the way we played last game in this building,” said Julien. “They beat us, but we had a good chance and we did a great job of getting on them. At the end of the night, they scored one more goal than we did. Sometimes it’s a matter of breaks and that’s what makes a difference in the game. The biggest thing for me was for us to come in here and play a solid, strong game. We did.”

Now, with nothing left to play for, one must assume the B’s will make sure to get those in need of a little extra rest some time off over the final three games of the regular season.

“One game at a time,” Julien said. “We’ll manage it that way and look at what’s going on. There’s a lot of things we have to think about in the next day or so. We’re going to try to manage ice time, try to get some guys some rest if need be. But I think there’s still some important games to be played here.

“There’s Pittsburgh next game, then we go to Ottawa – who could possibly be our first-round opponents – and Buffalo’s trying to get into the playoffs and battling for their lives. We have to take care of our business, but at the same time you have to think it through before you make those kinds of decisions.”

But regardless of what lies ahead, Julien is proud of the way his team has turned things around of late, as the Bruins have gone 7-1-1 in their last nine games after a prolonged stretch of mediocrity.

“Absolutely,” Julien said. “If you look at the way we played for two months prior to these last couple of weeks, it’s a big improvement. I think our guys are doing a really good job at gearing up for the playoffs.”

With the postseason a little more than a week away, Julien’s squad seems poised to meet their high expectations.