It Will Go Down To The Wire, But The Boston Bruins Have Second Place In Sight
For hockey historians, the battle in the National Hockey League’s Atlantic Division this year is a blast from the past. Three “Original Six” clubs battling it out for coveted home-ice in the playoffs.
After play this past weekend, the Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins and Montreal Canadians sit within two points of one another. Only one of those three will be fortunate enough to start the NHL playoffs at home in early April.
All three teams are a virtual lock to make the playoffs. The Canadians had the lowest odds of the trio heading into play yesterday at 88.4% according to MoneyPuck.com. Safe to say these three teams are going to the playoff dance.
Alas, they are not battling for first place in the Atlantic. The juggernaut Tampa Bay Lightning, with only 11 regulation losses on the season, have an insurmountable 15-point lead over second place Toronto. At home and cooling as they say.
Despite a season-long battle with (in)consistency, the Bruins find themselves in the thick of the fight for home-ice in the first round of the playoffs. A 4-0-3 mark since the All-Star break has given the Bruins the necessary cushion to focus on playoff positioning in their division, and minimize the sound of the footsteps behind them from the wild card pack.
To grab and maintain the all important second place spot in the Atlantic, many things must go the Bruins way. With three teams bunched so close together in the standings, luck and good fortune is always necessary in getting a leg up on a division rival. A perfect example is the Maple Leafs running into a hot goalie in Alexandar Georgiev Sunday night against the New York Rangers. Georgiev made 55 saves in helping the Rangers down the Leafs 4-1, allowing the Bruins to remain one point behind following their afternoon win over the Colorado Avalanche.
It Takes More Than Luck
Luck is great, but the Bruins will need more than that in order to take over second place. Here is a closer look at what the Bruins can do to help themselves down the stretch.
1. FIND SECONDARY SCORING
Outside the Bruins dominant top line of Patrice Bergeron, David Pastrnak and Brad Marchand, there has been little in the way of secondary scoring. The threesome have combined for 44.4% of all the Bruins goals this season. Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci have chipped in with 14 and 12 goals respectively, but the rest of the roster has underachieved. Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy has tinkered with the line combinations throughout the year hoping to spark a fire under some of the lightweights, but with little luck.
It’s no doubt Bruins general manager Don Sweeney will vigorously explore the trade market, hoping to acquire a rental or two in hopes of boosting the teams firepower. While the likes of Artemi Panarin and Wayne Simmonds have been linked to the Bruins, some other names Sweeney will likely inquire about include Thomas Vanek, Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Dzingal and Derek Brassard.
2. HEALTHY AND CONSISTENT GOALTENDERS
For the most part this season, the Bruins have been solid between the pipes. Like the rest of the team, both Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak have endured inconsistent stretches, although not at the same time. Boston is tied for second in the league in goals against, allowing only 2.55 per game. The strength of the Bruins is certainly their backend, with as strong a top-six defensive core as you will find in the league.
After Rask and Halak, the goaltending depth within the organization drops dramatically, and it would not be a surprise if Sweeney also doesn’t kick tires looking for some insurance in net. Some notable goaltenders of interest could include Cam Ward, Cam Talbot or Keith Kinkaid.
3. MAKE THE SCHEDULE WORK
After a home game Tuesday night against the red-hot Chicago Black Hawks, the Bruins will embark on a tough five game road trip over nine nights to the west coast. Anything less than five points during that trip could be costly to the Bruins in the standings.
The reward for such a difficult trip is a six-game home stand waiting for them when they return to TD Garden. If the Bruins can take care of business out west, they look to be in great shape as the calendar turns to March for the stretch drive.
4. PAGING DAVID BACKES
If anyone in the Boston area has seen David Backes, please let Sweeney or Cassidy know as soon as possible.
Backes, 34, has endured being a healthy scratch on occasion this season, including the Bruins’ last game against the Avalanche. Noted in the past for his aggressive nature and two-way game, Backes has been a shell of himself most of this year. A six-time 20-goal scorer in his career, Backes finds himself on pace for less than ten goals this season, while barely averaging ten minutes of ice-time per game recently. Should the Bruins be unable to add players prior to the trade deadline on February 25th, it will be vital for the Bruins to get Backes on track and prove the teams current commitment to him of $6.0 million a season (Average Annual Salary) through 2021.
The Bruins should be considered Stanley Cup contenders. With strong defence and goaltending, they are one of a handful of teams that have a legitimate shot of going all the way to the finals. With a couple of upgrades to the offence, the Bruins will find themselves hosting the first two games of the playoffs at TD Garden in Boston, most likely against an age-old rival in Toronto or Montreal.
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Statistics provided by hockey-reference.com, MoneyPuck.com and theScore
Feature Photo Image Credit: Nikos Michals