Red Wings-Bruins Preview
After keeping close tabs on one another for several weeks, neither the Detroit Red Wings nor the Boston Bruins need to resort to scoreboard-watching in their next game.
When the Atlantic Division members face off Thursday night in Boston, one can secure a playoff spot and the other essentially needs to win for a shot to get there.
The penultimate regular-season game for both teams carries enormous implications for each, especially for the Bruins. Two points behind the Red Wings for third in the division, Boston (41-30-9) would have a tough time earning a wild-card berth over Philadelphia if it loses.
Detroit did the Bruins somewhat of a favor with Wednesday's 3-0 win over the Flyers, keeping Philadelphia tied with Boston with 91 points. The Flyers hold a game in hand, however, and host last-place Toronto on Thursday.
Boston, which has lost eight of 10 since March 15, concludes the regular season at home against Ottawa on Saturday.
"You have to be confident and believe," center Patrice Bergeron told the Bruins' official website. "But at the same time there's no more chances here. This is our last chance and we have to seize it and go out there and do it."
Detroit (41-28-11) greatly helped its own cause with Wednesday's result. It can clinch a top-three finish in the Atlantic and extend its playoff streak to 25 seasons with a win of any kind over Boston.
Though they had an eight-game run with at least one power play goal end by going 0 for 4, the Red Wings excelled on the penalty kill to record their third straight win and seventh in 10 games. They staved off four Philadelphia chances and received a huge short-handed breakaway goal from rookie Andreas Athanasiou to take a 2-0 lead late in the second period.
''From day one, we've had to grind out wins. Everything's been close,'' coach Jeff Blashill said. ''We've never been truly comfortable in a playoff spot. At times, we've been on the outside looking in.''
Detroit also got another sharp performance from a resurgent Jimmy Howard, who stopped 30 shots for his first shutout since the season opener. He's yielded four goals over the winning streak.
"I've got to give a lot of credit to the guys in front of me, guys sacrificing their bodies the last three games," he said. "As a goalie when you see guys doing that it makes your job that much more enjoyable and you want to come up with big saves for the guys."
Howard could draw another start with Petr Mrazek having struggled both down the stretch and in the season series. Mrazek hasn't played since being pulled after allowing two quick goals at Montreal on March 29 and owns a 4.69 goals-against average over his last five appearances.
Mrazek has allowed 11 in three 2015-16 meetings with Boston, losing the first two and making just 17 saves in a 6-5 home win on Feb. 14 that halted Detroit's six-game series skid.
Tuukka Rask is coming off a 27-save effort in Tuesday's 2-1 shootout loss to Carolina, in which the Bruins salvaged an important point on Loui Eriksson's tying goal in the third period.
Eriksson has three goals and four assists over a six-game point streak against Detroit, while Bergeron has four goals over his last five games.