WILMINGTON — The Bruins (52-17-6) sit atop the Eastern Conference with an NHL-best 110 points, and at this time of year, there are no must-win games.
With just seven games remaining in the regular season, starting with Wednesday’s road tilt against the Detroit Red Wings, the Bruins can put an emphasis on fine-tuning their game for the fast-approaching playoffs.
But Wednesday’s game will provide the Bruins with a glimpse at a team they may see in the first round of the postseason. The Red Wings (35-26-14) are currently sitting fourth in the Atlantic Division.
“We have to recognize the fact we can see them in the playoffs,” coach Claude Julien said after Tuesday’s practice. “It’s getting closer to being finalized in the last few games, so we need to go there with a purpose, continuing to play well, and I don’t think it’s an absolute must-win, but we need to play better than we did last time.”
This will be the fourth and final regular-season matchup against the Red Wings, who have taken two of three.
The teams last met in late November, at Detroit, where the Red Wings thrashed the Bruins, 6-1. The Bruins then went on to win seven of their next 10 games.
“I keep bringing it back to experience,” Julien said. “This group has been together for a long time, we’ve been through a lot, ups and downs, and experienced a lot.
“The fact that we’ve been through those kind of things have helped us along, and we seem to react a lot better to those types of games and we bounced back with a better game than the following one. It’s always great to see your team react that way.”
The Bruins are certainly a better team than they were in November, and will have the chance to prove that when they take the ice at Joe Louis Arena.
Boston rolled through the month of March with a 15-1-1 record while playing 17 games squeezed into 31 days, vaulting to the top of the Eastern Conference.
The Red Wings, said defenseman Torey Krug, are “playing great hockey, and with all these teams down the stretch, everyone is fighting for playoff position and obviously they’re in one right now and they want to keep it that way.
“For us, it’s a good test. They’re already playing playoff hockey and we want to raise our level a bit. We’re always working on fine-tuning games and maybe send a message in case we do play them in the playoffs and let them know it will be a tough series.”
Spooner up, in case
The team skate at Ristuccia Arena was optional before the Bruins departed for Detroit. Forwards Patrice Bergeron, Jarome Iginla, David Krejci, and Loui Eriksson did not participate, nor did defenseman Zdeno Chara.
The Bruins also called up forward Ryan Spooner on an emergency basis, and he skated Tuesday, but Julien said everybody would be making the trip to Detroit.
Carl Soderberg’s wife is expecting a baby, and Julien wants to have Spooner on deck in case Soderberg has to leave.
“Carl Soderberg is on the bubble, so if he had to leave quickly, we didn’t want to get caught without an extra body out front,” Julien said.
The coach also said Krejci had been battling a sore throat.
Spooner was sent down to Providence Jan. 28 after filling in for Chris Kelly while Kelly was out with a broken leg. Spooner played 20 games in December and January, and in 22 games total with Boston, he has zero goals and 11 assists.
In his last seven games in Providence, Spooner had four goals and six assists.
“I think I had 3 points in my first nine games back [in Providence],” Spooner said. “I was frustrated with myself and played a lot better in the next three or four weeks.”
Iginla is honored
Iginla powered the Bruins through their ferocious March run, collecting 13 goals and four assists in 17 games. He was honored as the NHL’s “First Star” for the month of March, the league announced Tuesday.
“It’s an honor, it’s been an enjoyable month for our whole team,” Iginla said. “There’s been a lot of guys that have had great months, great streaks. You look at Bergy, and his has been as hot as I’ve seen.”
Bergeron had 11 goals and seven assists for 18 points in March.
Iginla leads the Bruins with 30 goals, and his 61 points (31 assists) are second behind Krejci (16-47—63).
“It’s one of those things you don’t really expect, but I’ve gotten some good bounces, some great passes from my lineys, and as a line we’ve had some fun,” Iginla said. “But bigger than that, it’s been a great month for our team and we’ve all benefited from that.”
Iginla scored on a league-best 31 percent of his shots in March (13 of 42) and scored five game-winning goals.
The other two stars were Detroit right winger Gustav Nyquist (12-6—18) and Philadelphia center Claude Giroux (6-15—21).