The Boston Bruins officially clinched a playoff spot Monday night. However, with fewer than 10 days left in the regular season, the jockeying for seeding in the East Division is just beginning.
The visiting Bruins will look to maintain their third-place standing in the East and perhaps inch closer to a top-two spot Tuesday night when they complete a back-to-back set against the New Jersey Devils in Newark, N.J.
The Bruins qualified for the playoffs for the fifth straight season and the 12th time in 14 years Monday night, when Tuukka Rask stopped all 20 shots he faced and Nick Ritchie, Patrice Bergeron and Matt Grzelcyk scored a goal apiece in a 3-0 win.
The victory continued a post-trade deadline surge by the Bruins (31-14-6, 68 points), who have won four straight to improve to 10-2-0 since acquiring Taylor Hall and Curtis Lazar from the Buffalo Sabres on April 12.
“I watch how we’re winning and how we’re playing, and we’re winning the right way,” Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy said. “Guys are preparing themselves for how to play in May and June — and hopefully July.”
The Bruins entered the deadline just four points ahead of the New York Rangers and Philadelphia Flyers in the race for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East. At that point, Boston was eight points behind the third-place Pittsburgh Penguins and 10 points behind the Washington Capitals and New York Islanders, who shared first place.
With the Monday win, the Bruins moved ahead of the Islanders (31-16-5, 67 points) into third place, just three points behind the Capitals (33-14-5, 71 points) and Penguins (34-16-3, 71 points). Boston has a game in hand apiece on New York and Washington and two games in hand on Pittsburgh.
Of the top four teams in the East, everyone is scheduled to play Tuesday except the Capitals.
“You look at our division and it’s tough and it’s tight,” Rask said. “There was no room to have slumps, really. We’ve had our ups and downs, but lately we’ve kind of found our game and our identity and we’ve stuck to it. We’ve got bigger goals in my mind, and we get to go for it again.”
The loss Monday snapped a three-game winning streak for the Devils (17-28-7, 41 points). New Jersey, which has four games remaining, hasn’t won more than three straight games since opening the 2018-19 season with a four-game winning streak.
While the game remained scoreless until almost the midway point of the second period, the Devils struggled to match the Bruins’ intensity. Boston outshot New Jersey 17-4 in the first and had 25 of the first 31 shots before Ritchie scored with 10:52 left in the middle period.
“I think we saw a completely different Bruins team,” New Jersey coach Lindy Ruff said. “They were ramped up, getting ready for the playoffs and knew they could clinch. Those two top lines have a lot of speed, and the defense has a lot of speed. I just thought they brought their ‘A’ game.”
Devils goalie Scott Wedgewood, who stopped 39 shots, added, “They put the pressure on early and kept us under for the first 10 to 15 minutes. They obviously had a goal and they were attacking it.”