jim davis/globe staff
Luck and design don’t often cooperate the way they have during this thus-far-remarkable season for the Bruins.
The opportunity for a professional sports team to get its affairs in order before the playoffs doesn’t happen too often in any league.
The Red Sox have won four American League East titles since 2007, but none by more than 5½ games (2013).
The Celtics, even in the years of New Big Three title contention, almost always had to battle with one LeBron James-led team or another for the top seed.
Even the Patriots, who have won the AFC East nine straight years and 14 of 15 — pause here to consider how insane that is — usually have something such as playoff seeding at stake over the regular season’s waning weeks.
The Bruins, thought by the likes of, ahem, me, to be a fringe playoff contender entering the season, now have the opportunity over the season’s final month to make sure they are in their best possible condition heading into the playoffs.
They headed into Thursday night’s game against the Flyers with a 41-15-8 record, good for 90 points. Barring a collapse of 2011 Red Sox proportions, they are all but locked into the No. 2 or 3 spot in the conference and a first-round playoff series with the Sons of Borje Salming, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
Sure, the current degree of difficulty has escalated with injuries to the indispensable Patrice Bergeron and wunderkind Charlie McAvoy; if they aren’t right come the postseason, even the best-laid plans can go haywire.
But the Bruins can survive and even thrive through this, presuming Bergeron and McAvoy are ready to go come playoff time. They can rest those who need a breather, crank up the usage for trade-deadline acquisitions to see how they best fit, and do their best to make sure they are at their best when the games matter the most.
A few thoughts as the Bruins gear up for the playoffs over the last 18 games . . .
■ Get Rask right
It’s fair to say Tuukka Rask hasn’t won the big one. He faltered where the Blackhawks’ Corey Crawford did not during the 2013 Stanley Cup Finals. If he had been the better goalie in that series, the Bruins would have had two Duck Boat parades in three years.
He was not the better goalie. But I think that was a growing pain rather than an indictment of who he is in big moments. The Bruins reached the Cup Finals with him in net, after all, and a goalie that is just adequate does not backstop his team to a playoff sweep of the Penguins, for example.
No one in Bruins history is going to have a playoff run like the one Tim Thomas had in 2011. Few in NHL history have even approached what he accomplished that season. But the Bruins are capable of winning a Cup with Rask. It’s imperative that he’s properly rested physically and mentally when the playoff grind begins.
■ The Nash-Krejci connection
General manager Don Sweeney’s biggest trade-deadline move was acquiring veteran All-Star Rick Nash from the Rangers for an assortment of marginal enticements, including Ryan Spooner. It is going to be fascinating to see how the accomplished sniper (436 goals in 1,054 regular-season NHL games) clicks with David Krejci, a superb passer who was at his best when Nathan Horton was riding shotgun during the 2010-11 Stanley Cup run.
Krejci is a wonderful playmaker but is sometimes exasperating, appearing to grow bored at times during the long season. Playing with Nash already seems to have given him a kick; he had a hat trick before the second period was over last Thursday in a wildly fun 8-4 win over the Penguins.
Bruins fans should not forgot what a fully engaged Krejci looks like. He was the postseason leader in goals (12) and points (23) during the Cup run in ’11, and was first in assists (17) and points (26) in ’13 when they lost to the Blackhawks. This is a big-time player. Having another as his sidekick should only enhance that.
■ Depth perception
I’m reluctant to suggest there’s any blessing in losing players of Bergeron and McAvoy’s abilities for any length of time. But their absences, especially McAvoy’s, does allow the Bruins to find out exactly what they have in Sweeney’s deadline acquisitions beyond Nash.
Tommy Wingels had a goal and an assist in his Bruins debut. He’s played two games since, but will step in for the suspended David Backes on the third line.
Defenseman Nick Holden, acquired from the Rangers, gets an upgrade in role and responsibility with McAvoy’s minutes being divvied up. That could prove beneficial come playoff time.
I’m not sure what the expectation was of 39-year-old Brian Gionta when they signed him after the Olympics, but he’s been useful so far, with three assists in three games while averaging 14 minutes of ice time. At the very least, we know that Sweeney’s decision to deal for depth at the deadline was a wise one.
The Bruins cannot afford any more significant injuries. And while Backes’s three-game ban is bogus, the Bruins do need to be wise about taking risks and losing their cool. It’s time to get right for the playoffs, not the time to get in their own way.
If they handle the next month with the preparation and professionalism with which they’ve handled everything so far during this superb season, the best times may be yet to come.
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