Officially Eliminated, Panthers Stumbling To Finish Line

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BOSTON (SportsDirect Inc.) — Late-season swoons have kept the Boston Bruins out of the playoffs in each of the last two years, but they battled back from another slide in their pursuit of nailing down a postseason berth.

Boston has answered a four-game skid with a three-game winning streak entering Saturday afternoon’s matchup against the visiting Florida Panthers.

The Bruins are three points ahead of Tampa Bay for the second wild card and trail third-place Toronto by one point in the Atlantic Division, although both teams have a game in hand.

“Other teams behind us are breathing down our necks, so we have to keep plugging away and winning,” goaltender Tuukka Rask said. “That’s the only thing we can control, but obviously after a four-game losing streak, we needed to change and so far, so good.”

Reigning division champion Florida was eliminated from the playoff hunt following Thursday’s 6-2 mauling in Montreal to drop to 0-3-0 on its four-game road trip.

Boston has permitted only five goals in winning all four matchups this season against the Panthers, although the teams haven’t met since Jan. 7.

TV: 1 p.m. ET, Sportsnet, FSN Florida, NESN (Boston)

ABOUT THE PANTHERS (33-33-11): Florida limped into Boston following a meek effort in a 6-2 loss at Montreal and will be without its top two netminders — Roberto Luongo and James Reimer — as well as Aleksander Barkov, will will sit out his second straight game. Reto Berra was torched for all six goals in his second start of the season and will get the nod against the Bruins. While the Panthers stumble to the finish line, Reilly Smith has scored in back-to-back games and in four of his last six.

ABOUT THE BRUINS (41-30-6): Rask struggled mightily during the four-game slide, but he permitted one goal in his last two contests and earned his career high-tying seventh shutout as Boston turned in a suffocating defensive effort in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Dallas. “It’s that time of year. At times there’s that desperation to do whatever you can to stop those scoring chances,” blue-liner Adam McQuaid said. Rask has stopped 114 of 119 shots in earning all four wins versus Florida this season.

OVERTIME

1. Boston is 12-for-12 on the penalty kill during the four-game winning streak.

2. Panthers F Jonathan Marchessault needs one goal to reach 30, but he has only one tally and zero assists in seven games versus Boston.

3. Bruins F Frank Vatrano (upper body) sat out Thursay’s win over Dallas and will miss both weekend games.

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