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2017 playoffs: A make-or-break week begins

We'll know a lot more about the Bruins' playoff positioning by this time next week.

NHL: Boston Bruins at Vancouver Canucks Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

The NHL playoffs don't officially start until next month, but for the Bruins, they may as well start tonight.

Tonight's game in Toronto kicks off a pivotal, make-or-break week for the B's, who control their own destiny as of this morning.

The Bruins currently sit 8 points behind Montreal for first in the Atlantic and 4 behind Ottawa for second. The Bruins and Canadiens will be tied in games-played after tonight; Ottawa will a game in hand.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Bruins have a three-point cushion on Toronto (the Leafs have a game in hand) and a four-point lead on the 9th-place Islanders, who will also have game in hand after tonight.

Tampa sits five points out, also with a pending game in hand.

This is the biggest week of the season for the Bruins, by far. They'll play four games in six days, all against teams immediately surrounding them in the playoff race.

They can leapfrog Ottawa with wins tonight and tomorrow night, and can seriously dent Tampa's hopes with a win Thursday.

However, a loss tonight puts the Bruins dangling over the edge of the cliff, making the games later in the week even bigger.

Last year at this time, the Bruins had a three-point lead on Detroit for the last spot in the Atlantic and a six-point lead over 9th place Philadelphia.

We all know how that turned out.

While it's disconcerting to know the Bruins blew a more solid grip on a spot last year, they're not going to need help. They will play the teams battling for that spot this week, meaning they don't need to watch the scoreboard if they take care of business.

Games like tonight's are games the Bruins have lost the past two years. Think about that big loss in Florida two years ago, or the OT loss to Carolina last year.

We'll learn if Bruce Cassidy's Bruins have what it takes to win the big ones in about 14 hours.

Week ahead: Monday @ Toronto, Tuesday vs. Ottawa, Thursday vs. Tampa, Saturday @ NY Islanders