Brutal upcoming road trip is Bruins’ final major test before playoffs

Brutal upcoming road trip is Bruins’ final major test before playoffs originally appeared on NBC Sports Boston

BOSTON — The Bruins‘ three-game homestand ended on a sour note Thursday night in a 5-2 loss to a red-hot New York Rangers team that completed a season series sweep of its Original Six rivals.

It was a fantastic test for the Bruins against a top contender in the Eastern Conference that plays the kind of heavy style that has given Boston trouble in recent playoff runs. New York also has as much offensive firepower as any team.

You would think that in a game between two first-place teams the Bruins would come out with great energy and tenacity, especially at home, and look to make a statement with the Stanley Cup Playoffs just a month away. Instead, it was the Rangers that consistently won puck battles and looked like the more desperate club despite owning a 16-4-1 record in their previous 21 contests.

“They checked really well. I don’t think we checked well enough,” Bruins head coach Jim Montgomery said postgame. “I don’t think we competed hard enough on pucks.”

Was the lack of a 60-minute effort a surprise to Montgomery?

“Yes. Surprised and disappointed,” Montgomery admitted.

Bruins forward Jake DeBrusk had a similar message.

“We knew it was a big game,” DeBrusk said. “Obviously, they’ve had our number — we haven’t beaten these guys (this season), so I don’t think the emotions were really a question coming in. I think it was just a matter of just answering their push, which we didn’t do.”

If the Bruins give that kind of performance over the next two weeks, the losses could keep piling up because their upcoming six-game road trip is absolutely loaded with quality opponents. All six of them are either in a playoff spot or just barely outside of the playoff picture.

It begins Saturday with a matchup versus the Philadelphia Flyers, who nearly pulled off an amazing comeback at TD Garden last weekend before losing 6-5 to the B’s. The trip then moves to Florida, where the Bruins have a difficult back-to-back versus the Panthers on Tuesday and Tampa Bay Lightning on Wednesday.

The next two games are against a pair of teams fighting for a wild card playoff spot in the Washington Capitals and Nashville Predators. The final matchup on the trip is in Carolina against an improved Hurricanes team that has won five consecutive games and eight of its last 10.

Bruins forward <a class=Justin Brazeau scored his third goal in the last two games on Thursday.” src=”–/YXBwaWQ9aGlnaGxhbmRlcjt3PTk2MDtoPTU0Mg–/”>

Bruins forward Justin Brazeau scored his third goal in the last two games on Thursday.

In many ways, this trip is the final major test for the Bruins before the postseason commences in mid-April. You also could make the case that these types of games are exactly what the Bruins need in order to be best prepared for the intensity of the playoffs.

“We want to see those opponents,” DeBrusk said. “We don’t want to see opponents that are — no offense, we don’t want to see opponents at the bottom of the league — we want to see opponents that are playing with that desperation because we need to get tested by it.”

Can a late-season road trip help the Bruins get back on track?

“I think so,” Bruins goalie Jeremy Swayman said. “I have no doubt in this team. There’s no doubt in this locker room. Again, when we lose and when we win there are opportunities to grow. Experience is gained. We’re going to do that on this road trip. We’re looking forward to it.”