By Matt Kalman, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — The Bruins have some lazy time coming up.
However, if they get a head start on their relaxation on Saturday at home against Toronto on Saturday, or in any of their three games in four nights next weekend, they might be headed toward a mid-April vacation.
The Bruins have played 54 games — the most of any Eastern Conference team. The benefit of that is a slower schedule in February, with nine games coming up in the next 25 days. The Bruins have four days off after hosting the Maple Leafs on Saturday. They will have their five-day bye week Feb. 13-18.
Boston’s problem is that while they’re resting, everyone else will be playing. Every team the Bruins are battling for playoff position has games in hand. And that intensifies the importance of the matchup with the Maple Leafs, who are three points back of Boston for third place in the Atlantic Division with five games in hand.
“I said it a couple of weeks ago that we’re at a time where it’s time to put up or shut up. …But we need to get back on the forward track against Toronto at home and keep collecting points,” Bruins forward David Backes said Friday after practice at Warrior Ice Arena. “While it’s exciting and we can maybe build it up to be division rivals, four-point games, put all that stuff on it, whatever you want, we need to have the same focus we had in the previous games of, it’s two points on the line, it’s a hungry, a desperate team, we’re a team with our backs against the wall against another team that’s fighting for their lives as well. And we need to put it out there and play our best game.”
The Bruins had won three in a row before losing at the Washington Capitals on Wednesday. Toronto is biting at the Bruins’ heels, as are the Florida Panthers (four points back in the division with three games in hand) and New York Islanders (five points back in the wild-card race with six games in hand). While the Bruins are practicing this week in preparation for the final three games of this homestand, and while they’re vacationing during the bye week, it’ll be a helpless feeling as the teams that are chasing them will be winning games and, in some instances, picking up points for losing.
Boston has to build up a more comfy cushion in the race to make the off days less stressful.
“It’s a motivation,” Bruins captain Zdeno Chara said. “That’s simple as I look at it. You’re needing points, you have to live up to it and be extremely motivated and go after them. You can’t be sitting back and thinking well we need to win but it’s going to just happen. We have to go out there and performance and be motivated and be hungry to get them.”
The Bruins seemingly dodged a bullet when goaltender Tuukka Rask was granted a maintenance day on Friday but was deemed ready to start Saturday. What Rask called a “pop” of his groin Wednesday looked like it easily could’ve been a tear. Although Patrice Bergeron’s status was less clear after he was injured blocking a shot with his right leg Wednesday, it was promising that Bergeron was classified as day-to-day and that coach Claude Julien wasn’t ruling out Bergeron for the Maple Leafs game.
The Bruins have their issues as far as a wearying Rask in net, a defense corps that’s no longer playing above its talent level and an offense that’s basically one line strong. Despite all the problems, the Bruins are in a playoff position and with the right amount of hunger and emotion they could rack up enough points to put pressure on the teams behind them to have to win those games in hand.
We’ll learn about the Bruins’ ability to be a postseason team in the next four games over nine days.
Matt Kalman covers the Bruins for CBSBoston.com and also contributes to NHL.com and several other media outlets. Follow him on Twitter @MattKalman.