The Boston Bruins secured a playoff spot in their last game. Now, they’ll look to improve their playoff position when they host the recently-eliminated Buffalo Sabres on Saturday in the regular-season finale for both teams.
Boston’s playoff hopes took a hit when it went 1-3-3 from March 9-22, a slump that dropped it into a seventh-place tie with Philadelphia in the Eastern Conference.
The Bruins (41-28-12), though, have responded with a 4-0-3 run to earn their first playoff berth since 2003-04. After losing in overtime at Buffalo and in a shootout at New Jersey, Boston salvaged the final game of their three-game road trip with a 2-1 victory at Ottawa on Friday.
“We knew what was at stake and we approached it that way,” said captain Zdeno Chara, who scored against his former team. “We just played every shift very, very hard and it was a great team effort.”
Boston is tied with Ottawa for sixth in the East with 94 points - one ahead of eighth-place Philadelphia and two ahead of Carolina, which may have seen its playoff hopes ended with a 4-3 loss to Florida on Friday.
The Bruins can finish as high as fifth or as low as eighth, depending on how conference opponents conclude their respective schedules. Boston also has a chance to open first-round competition on the road against any playoff-bound team in the East aside from the Senators or Flyers.
“It was good to know and obviously gave us a bit of breathing room and helped us finish the game on a strong note,” Bruins coach Claude Julien said.
The Bruins wouldn’t be headed to the playoffs without Tim Thomas, who made 16 saves on Friday to improve to 4-0-1 with a shutout and a 1.38 goals-against average over his last five starts.
Thomas is 2-1-1 with a 2.43 GAA in four starts this season versus the Sabres (38-31-12), winning two of three meetings at TD Banknorth Garden, where Boston has won two straight and three of four overall.
The Bruins are 4-1-2 against the Sabres and seek to win the season series for the first time since going 5-1-0 in 2003-04.
Alex Auld - Thomas’ backup - has performed very well against Buffalo this season, going 2-0-1 with a 1.62 GAA in three starts.
Leading scorer Marc Savard missed his sixth straight game Friday with a back injury, and his status for Saturday is unknown. Savard, the Bruins’ leader with 78 points, has three goals and four assists in six games against Buffalo in 2007-08.
The Sabres were eliminated from postseason contention with a 3-1 loss at Montreal on Thursday.
Buffalo, which needed at least one point to remain in the playoff hunt, had points in four straight (3-0-1) before that defeat.
“We gambled hard to get back in it and we just didn’t quite get it done,” said coach Lindy Ruff, whose team won the Presidents’ Trophy last season and played in each of the last two conference finals.
Buffalo, which had topped 100 points in the previous two seasons, enters with 88 and is assured of finishing 10th in the East.
Sabres center Derek Roy has five goals and 13 assists during a career-high 11-game point streak.