The Boston Bruins have work to do if they want to join the Buffalo Sabres in the postseason, but they might feel pretty good if they are matched up with their Northeast Division rivals should they get there.
Boston looks for its fourth win in five games against the division-leading Sabres on Monday night at TD Garden, the first of two remaining meetings in what could be a first-round playoff preview.
Buffalo (41-23-10) has a five-point lead and two games in hand on Ottawa, its closest pursuer in the Northeast, while the Bruins (34-28-12) are in fourth place in the division and only two points up on Atlanta for the eighth playoff spot.
Boston, however, has taken three of four from Lindy Ruff’s team - winning twice in Buffalo - behind Tuukka Rask(notes), the NHL leader with a 2.11 goals-against average. Rask has a 1.72 GAA in four starts against the Sabres, all coming this season.
His emergence has relegated reigning Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas(notes) to the role of high-profile backup, but the Bruins have still struggled to stay in playoff position due to inconsistent offensive play.
Their power play went silent from March 11-25, going 0 for 22. Boston managed to go 4-4-0 in that stretch behind Rask’s strong play, but saw how good it can look when converting with the man advantage Saturday.
The Bruins broke out of their slump in a big way, getting three power-play goals in a 5-0 victory over visiting Calgary as Thomas made his first start in six games.
“The big thing was our power play,” coach Claude Julien said. “We made better play selection, we moved the puck a lot better tape to tape, and when we had an opportunity to shoot, we shot the puck.
“We clarified some of the things that we weren’t doing well. … You’ve gotta hope that it keeps going like that.”
Buffalo was 3 for 46 with the man advantage during a 4-7-3 stretch from Feb. 3-March 16, but has started to win games as the power play has gotten better.
The Sabres scored 25 goals in winning five of their last six, going 7 for 29 (24.1 percent) with the man advantage. Derek Roy(notes) had a hat trick in a 7-1 victory over Tampa Bay on Saturday, scoring two of Buffalo’s three power-play goals to help his team clinch its first playoff berth since 2007.
“To get in with the game we played was real good,” Ruff said. “I might even smile.”
Patrick Lalime(notes) started Saturday, but Ryan Miller(notes) - second in the East in GAA behind Rask at 2.21 - should be back in net Monday. Miller has started three of the four games against Boston, going 1-0-2 with a 1.61 GAA.
All of those starts came at HSBC Arena, and Miller has not been nearly as sharp recently at TD Garden. He was 1-2-0 with a 4.47 GAA on the Bruins’ home ice last season, getting pulled after giving up seven goals on 20 shots in a 7-4 loss Nov. 19, 2008.