Bruins win division ... and move on

BOSTON -- The Boston Bruins clinched the Northeast Division title with a 3-2 win over the Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday afternoon at TD Garden.

Big deal. A division title means absolutely nothing.

There was no celebrating. There was no champagne toast. The Bruins' locker room was quiet, almost as if they had lost the game. In fact, defenseman Johnny Boychuk was the only player sporting a "Northeast Division champions" T-shirt and hat.

The team definitely has the potential, but Boston hasn't accomplished anything, yet.

When veteran Mark Recchi decided he wanted to return to the NHL for a 23rd season, his third in Boston, the fact that this Bruins team could win it all was one of the reasons the future Hall of Famer came back.

With a playoff berth, a division title and guaranteed home-ice advantage for the first round already in hand, Recchi still believes this team can accomplish more in 2010-11, but they can't take anything for granted and need to play better than they have the past two games.

"We have another big game on Monday [against the Rangers], and we still have things ahead of us," Recchi said. "We know we still have some things to accomplish. We've got four games left and we want to make sure we play well. We're excited about it, but at the same time, hopefully we've got a few more months left of hockey. That's the ultimate goal for all of us."

The Bruins have games remaining against the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators and New Jersey Devils before the puck drops for the Stanley Cup playoffs.

"We didn't come into the season wanting to win this division," said forward Brad Marchand. "We have a goal, and that's to win the Stanley Cup. This is a steppingstone, a good accomplishment for our team, but there's a long way to go before we accomplish our goal. It's special, but at the same time, we're a long ways away."

The Bruins currently sit in the No. 3 spot in the Eastern Conference and still have a chance to both move up and down in the standings.

"We know we're a few points behind the other teams, and we're going to play this thing to the end," Recchi said. "We want to continue to do the right things going into the playoffs. The last little bit we've been good. We've been pretty consistent."

Coach Claude Julien is aware that his team has played OK of late, but it needs to do a lot more to prepare for what could be a lengthy run through the playoffs.

Julien is content with the division title, but he wants his players focused on the bigger picture because now is not the time to be pleased.

"This is what a lot of teams obviously battle for, and we're glad that's out of the way," Julien said of division title. "We've got to keep playing and playing to win our next game and see where we end up."

After a subpar performance and a 4-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs in a shootout Thursday, the Bruins followed it with similar game against the Thrashers. Fortunately for the Bruins, the goal-starved Michael Ryder capitalized on a penalty shot at 12:31 of the third period that proved the be the game-winner.

"It's always a goal when you come into the season, and now that we've done that we still have a few games left, so maybe we can move up even further," Ryder said of winning the division. "We have to make sure we get our game ready to go for playoff time."

Julien admitted there is a fine line between wanting players to rest and prepare for the playoffs, but still maintaining that winning edge so that once you get there, your game is where it needs to be.

"Specifically, you're trying to build your game and build momentum," Julien said. "It's probably easier said than done. Guys understand they're in the playoffs, guys understand that we've clinched our division, but at the same time you know players say, 'I want to be ready for the playoffs.' So it's about finding that middle ground that allows you to continue to perform well and win some hockey games."

The Bruins have reached the playoffs in each of the four seasons Julien has been behind to bench but have yet to advance past the second round under his tenure. Last season's historic collapse to the Philadelphia Flyers is still fresh in everyone's minds, so Julien is trying to keep his players loose and ready.

"The one thing you don't want to do as a coach this time of the year is push them over the edge," Julien said, "so it's about keeping that balance and making sure we're having fun playing this game so when the playoffs start it's not about stress, it's about enjoying it."

The only way the Bruins will enjoy it is if the season ends with captain Zdeno Chara carrying Lord Stanley's Cup around the ice.

Joe McDonald covers the Bruins for ESPNBoston.com.