SUNRISE, Fla. — The Boston Bruins clinched a playoff berth, and just how motivated they will be to beat the host Florida Panthers on Thursday night at the BB&T Center remains to be seen.
The Florida Panthers, on the other hand, are fighting for their hockey lives. They must win their three remaining games — home-and-home with the Bruins sandwiching a contest against the Buffalo Sabres — and hope that either the Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils or Philadelphia Flyers stumble the rest of this week.
“We have to win out,” Panthers winger Jonathan Huberdeau said. “We have to win every game.”
Article continues below ...
Meanwhile, the Bruins (49-18-12) are locked in a fight with the Tampa Bay Lightning for first place in the Atlantic Division. Both teams have 110 points, but Boston has one game in hand.
On Tuesday night, the Bruins were embarrassed in a 4-0 loss at the Lightning. It was Boston’s second straight defeat — and that is not the way a team wants to head into the playoffs.
Bruins goalie Tuukka Rask has had a great season with a 2.32 goals-against average and a 34-12-5 record. But his performance on Tuesday against Tampa Bay was not his best.
“Two goals from distance — he’s been better (in other games), and I think he would be the first one to say that,” Boston coach Bruce Cassidy said. “The second goal might have been through traffic. But the first one simply can’t go in.
“We didn’t score … so it might not have mattered.”
So there you have it: A desperate Panthers team that needs to win and hope for help to make it as an Eastern Conference wild-card playoff team competing against a Bruins squad that is already in but wants to be sharper as it prepares for the postseason.
The Panthers are coming off their most dramatic game of the year, a 2-1 home win over Nashville Predators, a team with the best record in the NHL.
With the Panthers clinging to that 2-1 lead, Nashville pulled its goalie for an extra attacker during the final three minutes. Panthers center Aleksander Barkov had a chance at an empty-net goal to ice the game, but his shot hit the post.
Given a reprieve, Nashville turned up the pressure. Incredibly, the Predators scored with 0.3 seconds left as Filip Forsberg tapped in a loose puck. But after a dramatic video review, it was ruled that Panthers goalie Roberto Luongo had stopped the puck before Nashville’s Viktor Arvidsson spun him around with his stick.
Goalie interference was the call, and Luongo — naturally — agreed.
“At first, I wasn’t sure what happened,” Luongo said. “But once I saw the replay, the puck was between my legs. (Arvidsson) pitch-forked me. As he spun me around, the puck came loose.
“(The puck) was definitely under me. It was between my legs and covered. Once he spun me around, the puck came out. It’s pretty clear.”
Luongo, who turned 39 on Wednesday, gave a shout out to the replay crew after beating Nashville in career game No. 999
“I was happy they made the right call,” he said. “It would’ve been upsetting if it would’ve been ruled a goal. (During the review), I was trying not to snap if they allowed the goal. That’s what I kept telling myself.”
Boston still has a shot to overtake Nashville in the race for the Presidents’ Trophy, trailing by three points with a game in hand.
For Thursday’s game, one player to watch is Florida’s Colton Sceviour, normally a bottom-six forward. In the Panthers’ past two games, however, he made a third-period, game-winning play in each. He got a hit and an assist that led to the winning goal against the Carolina Hurricanes and scored the winning goal against Nashville.
Florida is relatively healthy. Boston, meanwhile, will be without defenseman Brandon Carlo (ankle) and winger Anders Bjork (shoulder). In addition, two key players, winger Rick Nash (upper body) and center Riley Nash (ear), are questionable.