With the top seed in the Eastern Conference already in hand, the Boston Bruins may be letting up a bit.
They might not need their best performance for a win Thursday night when they visit the Winnipeg Jets, who won’t be at full strength and are out of the playoff chase.
Boston (53-18-8) clinched the top record in the East and leads Anaheim and St. Louis for the Presidents’ Trophy with 114 points, the most in the NHL since Vancouver finished with 117 in 2010-11. The Bruins last finished with the league’s top record in 1989-90 before losing to Edmonton in the Stanley Cup finals. Their .722 winning percentage is the club’s highest since going 52-17-9 in 1973-74.
But after a dominant 15-0-1 run through the end of March, they’ve dropped three of four this month. All of those defeats came on the road, and Boston hasn’t lost four straight away from home since March 11-22, 2012.
The Bruins took a 3-2 lead Monday at Minnesota after Loui Eriksson scored on a power play late in the second period, but they surrendered the tying goal with 65 seconds left in regulation and failed to score in the shootout to lose 4-3.
Boston, which was without top goal scorer Jarome Iginla (lower-body injury) for the third time in four games, also gave away 1-0 and 2-1 leads in last Wednesday’s 3-2 loss at Detroit.
"Try to get some rest for certain guys and still try to play good hockey," goaltender Tuukka Rask said. "There’s still something to play for. But it’s not always easy to find that 100 percent perfect game in these situations."
Patrice Bergeron certainly hasn’t let up, scoring his 29th goal Monday to get within one of Iginla and extend his career-best point streak to 12 games. He has 10 goals and six assists during that stretch.
Winnipeg (35-35-10) is likely to be missing two of its top offensive players.
Dustin Byfuglien (upper-body injury) won’t play again this season, and the Jets were also missing captain Andrew Ladd due to an undisclosed injury in Monday’s 1-0 defeat to Minnesota. Ladd, whose 54 points are two behind Byfuglien for third on the team, is considered day-to-day, though coach Paul Maurice told reporters Wednesday he probably wouldn’t play against Boston.
Evander Kane played Monday after he was a healthy scratch in Saturday’s win at Toronto for being late to a team meeting. Kane ranks near the top of the league with 3.9 shots per game but has scored just twice on 73 shots over his last 22 contests.
Michael Hutchinson made 16 saves in his first career start with Al Montoya still suffering from a lower-body injury. Maurice said he expects Hutchinson to play in at least one of the club’s final two games.
The Bruins are 17-4-1 over the last 22 meetings in this series and won this season’s only matchup 4-1 in Boston on Jan. 4. Rask stopped 36 shots to improve to 8-4-0 with a 1.98 goals-against average against the Jets franchise.
Iginla, among the league leaders with 32 points since Jan. 25, has nine goals and 12 assists over his last 13 matchups with the Jets franchise.
Winnipeg has lost eight of 10 at home, including three straight while totaling four goals.