The Boston Bruins have surged to the top of the Eastern Conference while seemingly playing better than they have all season during a stellar winning streak.
They also realize there’s plenty of hockey left to be played.
Boston looks to win a ninth straight game while also seeking its first-ever home victory over the Minnesota Wild on Monday night.
The Bruins (45-17-5) hold a three-point lead over Pittsburgh for home-ice advantage throughout the East playoffs and have outscored opponents 32-12 in non-shootout goals during their winning streak.
Jarome Iginla scored twice, Milan Lucic had a goal and two assists and David Krejci had three assists in Saturday’s 5-1 victory over Carolina. Chad Johnson made 29 saves as Boston held its third straight opponent to a single goal.
Iginla is riding a four-game point streak and has 10 goals and 14 assists over his last 18.
”I just hope we’re not peaking right now and keep wanting more,” Lucic said. ”We’ve done a good job of staying focused and keeping on the task at hand. It seems like we’re playing at our highest level of the season so far. It seems to have gotten better since the start of February and the Olympic break.”
While the Bruins have earned at least one point in 19 of their last 21 contests, coach Claude Julien wouldn’t say his team has reached its peak.
”If he thinks we’re peaking too soon, I can show him areas where we can play better,” Julien said. ”We’re playing well and working hard.”
Boston hasn’t had this long of a winning streak since a 10-game run in November 2011, but it hasn’t fared well at all against Minnesota. The Wild are 10-1-1 against the Bruins since joining the league in 2000, winning each of their six trips to Boston.
Minnesota (35-22-10) is opening a three-game road trip after going 1-0-3 during a four-game homestand. Each defeat came in the shootout, including Saturday’s 2-1 loss to Columbus.
Coach Mike Yeo was pleased that his club was able to earn points in each contest, though. The Wild sit in seventh place in the West as they seek back-to-back playoff appearances for the first time since 2007 and ’08.
”You lose in a shootout and it paints an ugly picture. I’m actually happy with the way our guys battled,” Yeo said. ”I thought we generated some great quality chances (Saturday). I thought we defended hard.”
Darcy Kuemper made 28 saves in his third straight start and is 6-1-2 with a 1.62 goals-against average over his last nine.
”When you’re seeing the goalie down there making saves, you don’t want that to be the difference,” Kuemper said. ”You want to do your job as well. So you just try to go with him, stop for stop.”
Kuemper has never faced Boston, which likely will counter with Tuukka Rask after he sat Saturday. Rask has won five straight starts while posting a 1.57 GAA and ranks among the league leaders with a 2.10 GAA on the season.
Rask is 1-1-0 with a 1.45 GAA in two starts against the Wild, though he hasn’t faced them since Minnesota’s last visit to Boston on Jan. 6, 2011.
The Wild won the most recent meeting 2-0 on Feb. 19, 2012.