By Matt Dolloff, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — It’s a difficult distinction to slap the “must-win” tag on a road game. But the Bruins have played themselves into earning that label before Monday night’s game against the Maple Leafs in Toronto.
The Bruins are 12-4 under interim head coach Bruce Cassidy and have maintained their third place spot in the Atlantic Division over the last 16 games, yet still find themselves in need of every point they can get. They hold a three-point lead over the Leafs, so their place in the standings won’t change after tonight, regardless of the result. But Toronto still looms ominously behind the Bruins with a game in hand.
A win for the Leafs on Monday night would be a huge step toward potentially upending the Bruins for one of the last seeds in the Eastern Conference. Even if the Maple Leafs beat the Bruins on Monday and outperform them down the stretch, the B’s can still sneak into the second Wild Card spot of the playoffs. But that seed will go to a team that would have to play the Capitals, Penguins, or Blue Jackets in the first round – which would likely make for a very quick exit.
The road to the playoffs doesn’t get any easier or less important for the Bruins in the remaining 10 games following Monday night’s game in Toronto, either. They play the Tampa Bay Lightning (twice) and New York Islanders, who are also in the thick of the race for the final Wild Card spot. They also have to play two more times against the Ottawa Senators, who won both of their prior games against the Bruins this season in fairly convincing fashion.
So, yeah, must-win game for the Bruins on Monday night.
Cassidy acknowledged the importance of Monday night’s game in Toronto, as well as pretty much every game left in the season. But he added that it’s more important for the Bruins to take a “one game at a time” approach, as focusing on the entire road ahead of them does nothing to help their chances.
“For us, we’re playing the game in front of us which is the Toronto Maple Leafs,” Cassidy told reporters after the Bruins’ practice on Sunday. “I know who’s coming next. I’m sure the players do. But I don’t see any sense in worrying about it, to be honest with you.”
Cassidy added that he was happy about how the Bruins skated at Sunday’s practice and that they worked hard to get back to their usual pace after a two-day layoff. They’ll need to play Toronto with better pace and less sloppiness than they did in Edmonton against the Oilers on Thursday, when they allowed three goals in a span of 3:54 early in the first period.
The coach knows as well as anyone that the Bruins are not alone in absolutely needing to win as many games as possible to secure a playoff spot. Monday night will merely be the first of 11 virtual must-win games for the Bruins to close out the season.
“Everyone’s got something to play for this time of the year,” said Cassidy. “We know what’s at stake for us.”
Matt Dolloff is a writer for CBSBostonSports.com. Any opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect that of CBS or 98.5 The Sports Hub. Have a news tip or comment for Matt? Follow him on Twitter @mattdolloff and email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.