BOSTON -- The schedule-makers must be foaming at the mouth because Game No. 82 is carrying so much meaning for a few teams in the Eastern Conference.
On Thursday, the Boston Bruins defeated the Detroit Red Wings 5-2, while the Toronto Maple Leafs beat the Philadelphia Flyers 4-3 in overtime to set up a highly anticipated final weekend of the season. Buckle up because it's going to be an interesting few days.
The Bruins have 93 points and are tied with the Red Wings for third place in Atlantic Division. Boston has one game remaining, against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday. The Red Wings play at the New York Rangers on Saturday. The Flyers have 92 points with two games remaining. It means only more confusion and anticipation as the teams battle for a postseason berth.
Detroit's loss to the Bruins means it will have to wait to clinch a possible 25th consecutive postseason appearance. The Wings need a win in regulation or overtime on Saturday to clinch. If the Flyers win both of their remaining games, they will make the playoffs. So, if both the Flyers and Wings win their remaining games, the Bruins are out.
Think about that: The Bruins could finish with 43 wins, while the Red Wings could end with 42 and the Flyers with 41 and Boston could still miss the playoffs.
Similar to a season ago, the Bruins' postseason hopes will come down to the final day of the regular season. It didn't end well for them last spring, so they're looking to change that this time around.
"Nothing new for us, I guess," Bruins goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "We've pretty much played playoff hockey for the past month or so, so it won't be anything new for us [on Saturday]. We know what we can do out there and we have to be relaxed and mentally focused to do those things, and we'll be fine. That's how the game goes nowadays, the standings stay tight to the end and now we're one of those teams on the verge of the playoffs, so that's how it is and we just have to be mentally strong."
From the start of training camp the Bruins, under a so-called rebuild, have realized how important it is to earn a postseason berth, even if it comes down to the final game of the season.
"That's what it takes sometimes," Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. "That's why you have 82 games, so you can still have a chance at it, and that's how we're looking at it."
The Red Wings are in a similar situation. They are one win away from a 25th consecutive postseason berth and if they had won Thursday, they would have clinched that spot. No one wants to be a Red Wing on the team that misses the playoffs after two-plus decades.
"We've got one game left and we've got to take care of business here," Red Wings captain Henrik Zetterberg said.
It's incredible to think that the Bruins are in a similar situation as they were last spring. As confusing as it is, Boston needs to win on Saturday to help its playoff chances.
"We're going to be facing the same situation we faced [Thursday night], and we said that before these three games at home that every game has to be approached as a must-win and that's how we have to approach the last game against Ottawa," Chara said.
Before Thursday's game, every Bruins player and coach Claude Julien talked about erasing all the negativity around the team. It was almost them against everyone else and it could be that mentality that helps them earn that playoff berth.
"Well, just realize how important it is to have every single guy pulling their load and committed to the system and moving forward," defenseman Torey Krug said. "We played great, but that game is over and we have another big test and we've got to just realize that and bring the same effort Saturday."
The Red Wings believe just as much. A win on Saturday means they will accomplish the goal they have been striving for with a playoff berth.
"We've got the character in this room to get the job done and we've just got to go out there and play one game, win one game," goaltender Jimmy Howard said. "We know what it's going to take and I know we can do it."